A new report from the Economic Policy Institute links staffing shortages in long-term care facilities in Nebraska and across the country to low wages and poor working conditions.
The median wage for caregivers, at just over $15 an hour, is significantly lower than the national median of $20 an hour.
Todd Stubbendieck, state director for AARP Nebraska, said the lack of sufficient staff can have significant negative effects on the health of residents.
“Decreased physical capacity, more infection rates, more falls, then more hospitalizations,” Stubbendieck pointed out. “Addressing this staffing issue is fundamental to ensuring that we provide good quality care to residents of long-term care facilities.”
Long-term care workers are also less likely to be covered by employer-provided pension and health insurance benefits. Even before COVID, nursing home staff could not keep up with demand and the industry has lost 235,000 workers since the pandemic began. AARP analysts found that a fifth of all nursing homes have reported insufficient staffing each month since the summer of 2020.
Jeremy Nordquist, president of the Nebraska Hospital Association, said understaffing at nursing homes is also impacting Nebraska hospitals. When long-term care facilities are not adequately staffed, he said inpatients cannot be discharged and their bed is not available for the next patient who needs it.
“We’ve seen recently, just in the Omaha area, hospital emergency rooms start to back down because beds weren’t available,” Nordquist observed. “Because we didn’t have enough skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes across the state to take these patients.”
The report called for increased public funding to ensure higher wages and better working conditions to attract and retain experienced and committed workers. States and localities can also establish industry-specific worker standards commissions to recommend changes to minimum wages and working conditions.
Stubbendieck added that helping Nebraskanians access home care would also reduce demand.
“We know people want to stay home as long as possible, or at the lowest level of care,” Stubbendieck noted. “People are staying at home and receiving care, and not having to go to long-term care facilities, which tend to be more expensive. And so strengthening home and community care is one solution. ”
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