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'The system is broken,' nursing home expert says of staffing shortages

Free Press - 8/1/2022

Jul. 31—Area nursing homes continue to struggle with staffing shortages, leaving patient beds empty because they don't have the care team to provide for a full facility.

Among the states reporting the most widespread staffing shortages is Minnesota — where 69 percent of nursing homes say they don't have enough caregivers, according to a recent New York Times article. Minnesota has a higher-than-average share of nonprofit facilities that depend on Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements, which the industry says have not been adjusted for their increased cost of operations.

"Like most businesses in the area, we are in need of staff," said Teresa Hildebrandt, executive director of St. Peter'sBenedictine Living Community. "We haven't fully recovered from pre-COVID numbers. We still have openings in all of our departments."

"I heard that it's an employee's market. There are lots of job opportunities out there for them. It is very competitive, even among long-term care providers. We're all looking for the same people — licensed nursing and certified nursing assistants — and right now they are in limited supply."

About 5 1/2 years ago, her facility had 150 staff, but now that's down to 100. Some staff members retired, others moved away, and some were college students who graduated.

The Benedictine Living Community has a 79-bed skilled nursing facility and a 46-unit assisted living facility. Due to a lack of staffing, beds are unfilled, Hildebrandt said.

"That's a common theme across skilled nursing providers," she said.

"The problem is so extensive that we are not admitting people into our settings because we don't have enough staff to take care of them," said Patti Cullen, president and CEO of Care Providers of Minnesota, based in Bloomington. "We had about 23,000 open positions during our last survey, and that hasn't gotten better. The survey was done in April."

The industry saw flocks of workers leave their posts during the pandemic, as mothers with young kids opted to stay home when schools were closed.

"They didn't all come back," Cullen said.

At least 75 percent of nursing homes are limiting admissions because of staff shortages, she said. In some facilities, entire wings are closed and staff is declining hospital referrals.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, "we can confirm facilities have not filled their beds due to unavailable staff and are not taking admissions."

"We have already heard from health systems that they have people in the hospital waiting to be discharged into our settings," Cullen said. "It's of concern to the health department because we want to make sure beds are open for people who need them.

"Until we can get our staffing shored up, we won't be able to admit people because you can't admit people you can't take care of. We think the system is broken. When you have open beds, it means your finances are cycling down the drain. You're not getting money in," she said. "We are still paying for gowns, gloves, masking and testing. COVID still exists in our settings, and those costs are no longer covered by any federal assistance. I think the increased cost is leading some facilities to close. We estimate that there could be up to 40 facilities closing in the next year."

Most of those troubled facilities are in rural parts of the state, where people "can't find a place to take care of their mom or dad," Cullen said.

The competition for skilled staff is particularly tough in southeastern Minnesota, in part because Mayo Health System gobbles up workers with higher wages and better benefits than long-term care facilities can afford to provide for their staff, she said.

"We love having them here, but they take our workers," Cullen said.


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