While staffing shortages have impacted innumerable industries internationally, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting production shutdowns, an ongoing shortage in nursing home staffing is creating a new epidemic to fear. These staffing shortages have grown so much in severity that 78% of nursing homes fear closure as a result.
Before the global Coronavirus pandemic, nursing home employment was on a steady rise, with 3.15 million employed in 2011 and a steady annual increase to 3.38 million in January of 2020. In September of 2021, record-low nursing home employment rates rolled in with a total of 2.95 million nurses, and the numbers have continued to drop since.
86% of American nursing homes documented worsening staffing problems between June and September of 2021. Currently, 99% of nursing homes have deficits on their hands with 59% saying their staffing issues have exceeded exigency. Hiring, too, is posing new hurdles with 70% of nursing homes nationwide reporting hiring struggles.
The demand for staff is more urgent than ever and will only continue to grow. More and more seniors are in need of care. By 2030, 20% of American adults will be retiring, two-thirds will require long-term assistance of some kind, and one-fifth will require extended treatment for 5 years or longer.
Residents are receiving drastically less care with insufficient staff. A 32% drop in nurse-to-patient ratios was noted between February 2020 and January 2021. A Centers for Medicaid & Medicare recommendation suggests that patients obtain nursing care for a minimum of four hours a day. Prior to the onslaught of COVID-19, the vast majority of residents already didn’t receive the recommended amount of staff contact each day. Now, they receive 21 minutes per day, or less, on average. With the shortage comes more challenging meal times, less frequent bathing, increased likelihood of bedsores, upticks in falls and wounds, and nurse stress is skyrocketing; which is a major impetus for the shortage as pandemic stressors amplified challenges of an already challenging job.
Burnout and turnover can be reduced by improving conditions. Make safety a priority by increasing the presence of PPE, on-site COVID testing, coordinated back-up protocols, as well as better communication of policy changes, to assure the safety of nurses in their work environment. Offer employees a stress-relieving quiet room at work and consider implementing employee assistance programs, which may include grief or bereavement counseling, all to extend a loving hand. Finally, remind nurses how invaluable they are by providing snacks, throwing spontaneous celebrations, and commending employees who surpass expectations as you express the appreciation they sincerely deserve.
There are no easy solutions to curbing the shortage, but we need nurses and they need more support, and together the situation can improve.