‘This is really concerning’: Staff shortages at NC nursing homes only getting worse

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The staff shortages at North Carolina’s nursing homes have only gotten worse.

Nearly 40 percent of the state’s nursing homes responding to a government survey indicated they are facing some kind of staffing shortage — including 1 in 3 that say they don’t have enough nurses — according to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

That rate was just 28 percent a little more than a year ago.

Adam Sholar, the president and CEO of the North Carolina Health Care Facilities Association — the trade group that represents the state’s nursing homes — says those shortages have not affected patient care.

“Over the longer term, and particularly for facility for individuals who need the care, but are not in a facility, this is really concerning,” he said in an interview with CBS 17 News.

Numbers provided by his association, gathered during a survey over the summer, paint a grim picture of the staffing situation across the state:

— A drop of more than 12,500 employees since January 2020, which equals a 12.9 percent decline.

— Nearly 2,700 more employees quit in August alone.

— The main reason for leaving is the impact of COVID-19 (89 percent), followed by higher pay elsewhere (72 percent) and burnout and stress (54 percent).

“This is a workforce that is, month by month, it’s shrinking,” Sholar said.

The domino effect could impact everyone — especially with the fast-spreading omicron variant looming this holiday season.

The shortages are causing some homes to cut or stop admissions, forcing those patients who would have been discharged to nursing homes to instead remain in hospitals longer. That, in turn, is leading to the potential for overcrowding at some of those hospitals.

Nursing homes are trying to compensate for those shortages by paying more in overtime, using temporary staffing and giving raises and bonuses to the workers they do have.

“It has been provided, really, in a manner that’s not going to be sustainable for very much longer,” Sholar said.

He says a solution is raising the low rate of government reimbursement for Medicaid, which on average pays for two of every three days of care. Sholar said North Carolina’s rate was the lowest in the Southeast before the pandemic.

“I think we have to look at meaningfully increasing the rates and the funding into this program so that we can pay higher wages and attract more people into the workforce,” he said.

It’s not a new problem — experts have said it dates back to the 1980s — but Sholar says there are reasons why lawmakers should listen to those arguments now.

“If you look at North Carolina’s demographics, over the next two decades … the number of individuals who need long-term care is only going to grow, and it’s going to grow exponentially,” Sholar said. “So without meaningful change, the workforce challenges we’re dealing with today, this is the best it’s going to be for the next 20 years. 

“So if you are an individual who is either aging into the time in life where you might need long-term care, or you have a family member who is entering that period that are alive, this should be important to you,” he added.

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