AUSTIN (KXAN) — As COVID-19 cases surge in Texas nursing homes, another crisis is plaguing those facilities: staffing shortages.
Industry leaders estimate a 15% reduction in the skilled nursing workforce during the pandemic. Kevin Warren, president and CEO of the Texas Health Care Association, said he fears the industry faces greater pressure due to the rise of the omicron variant.
“It becomes the roller coaster that we can’t get off of,” he said. “We need to stay on this because residents and families rely on these providers to protect the health and safety of residents. It was a challenge.
Figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics show 3,371,800 workers in nursing and residential care facilities in March 2020. By May, that number had fallen to 3,192,400. Preliminary figures for December 2021 show a workforce of 2,958,700.
Leaders of the national nursing home advocacy group American Health Care Association have pointed out that the skilled nursing industry has been hit harder by labor shortages than other health care sectors.
“What it causes is – the staff who are always there – it’s longer shifts, it’s more doubles, it’s more days without leave. It also increases costs, as the cost of hiring traveling nurses, traveling staff, or placement agencies is significant compared to what they typically pay. So all of these things have a cumulative effect,” he said. “It’s easily the number one cost driver within the vendor framework.”
That’s why his association and AHCA leaders were urging public health officials to extend the public health emergency, and the Department of Health and Human Services eventually renewed it, effective January 16. .
Warren said the extension was “crucial” to allowing facilities to continue to access financial resources and other public health protections. For example, he pointed to the “temporary supplement,” which gives homes an additional $19.63 per resident per day to cover increased costs associated with the pandemic.
KXAN asked Warren if Texas facilities have used these payments or other programs to incentivize staff to stay. He didn’t know how many facilities had taken these steps, but said he had heard of everything from base salary increases to “hero” or hazard bonuses.
Lori Porter, co-founder and CEO of the National Association of Health Care Assistants, said she was pleased to see base pay slowly increasing for certified practical nurses (CNAs). However, “what happens in one doesn’t have to happen in another,” she said.
She defends the CNAs, after having worked as such for years.
“You are the first line of information, the first line of care,” she said. “You often feel like you’re the most important in the room, but you’re rarely seen as such.”
She said in addition to better pay, the industry should focus on more education and support to not only fill vacancies but also retain workers for the long term.
She estimates that a minimum of 12,000 CNAs are needed in Texas to fill current shortages.
This week, his association launched NICE, the AIIC National Institute of Excellence. The free online training program will connect interested students with facilities for their clinical and post-graduation work, as well as a mentor to support them during their early years of work.
Porter launched NICE in Texas this week, before rolling it out nationwide. She said 100 facilities across the state have already signed up to partner with them.
“Don’t just pair them, prepare them,” she said. “Preparing CNAs for Skilled Nursing? It’s different. Caring for the elderly and people living in long-term care facilities is different from working in the hospital. It’s different from home health, and we have to be prepared.