Daily nasal swabs and layers of gloves, masks and other protective gear became the norm for nursing home staff during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For some, these demands remain a reality and are part of what drives workers out of the industry, leaving aging Oklahomans without proper care.
Low pay and high stress have left more than 30% of nursing homes across the state shorthanded, according to the latest Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Data.
This means increased work for the remaining staff. Less time spent with each resident. And lower quality of care.
Staffing shortages affect homes in rural, urban and suburban communities. Without workers, facilities are forced to hire temporary staff at almost double the salary and cut the number of residents, which reduces their income and has led to the closure of at least six nursing homes since 2021.
Two additional homes in Oklahoma City and Ardmore are empty but have not officially closed, said Steven Buck, who represents the state’s for-profit nursing homes at Care Providers Oklahoma.
Rural communities are particularly affected by these closures, said Mary Brinkley, who represents nonprofit retirement homes at LeadingAge Oklahoma.
When Medford’s Servant Living Center closed in fall 2021, it was the city’s only retirement home of 988 people near the Kansas border. The nearest alternative for local families who needed to find a new home for their loved one was over 30 miles away. And if those beds were full, it would be even further.
Low pay and harsh working conditions have been piling up in the industry for years, but have intensified during the pandemic, Buck said.
Nurses, orderlies, cooks and cleaners risked their own health and that of their families to care for residents of nursing homes as COVID has ravaged group homes across the state, killing 2,594 residents and 65 employees, according to federal data.
Care Providers Oklahoma and LeadingAge Oklahoma, joined by the state hospital and nursing associations, have asked lawmakers for $500 million in federal pandemic relief funds to address “a debilitating shortage of health care workers. health seriously exacerbated by COVID-19,” according to his request for financing. The request was among 1,440 applications vying for the state’s second phase of American Rescue Plan Act funding. Lawmakers doled out the bulk of the $1.87 billion in public funds. Labor shortage demand was not one of them. Approximately $85 million remains uncommitted.
This spring, the Legislature allocated $4.5 million in COVID relief funds to Oklahoma healthcare providers for workforce training and additional funding for nursing schools.
Buck and Brinkley warn that more is needed, and fast, as Oklahoma’s elderly population continues to grow. Otherwise, families will have to pay for expensive home care or may have to quit their jobs to stay home and care for loved ones, they said.
Editor’s note: Federal data was updated after recording the conversation with OETA. This story reflects the most recent available data for the week of September 25, 2022.
Watch Oklahoma, at oklahomawatch.orgis a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers public policy issues facing the state.