Virginia nursing homes have lost more than 9,500 employees since the start of the pandemic
The widespread shortages are raising concerns over patient care and increasing calls for policy solutions
The day Virginia closed its schools in March of 2020, Tom Orsini knew he’d have a problem.
“It was devastating,” said Orsini, president and CEO of Lake Taylor Transitional Care Hospital in Norfolk. “Because our staff, they’re the caregivers at home.” Over the next several months, more and more employees struggled to make shifts at the nursing home as classes stayed virtual amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Industry-wide, thousands more workers got sick and thousands quit, citing burnout and the stress of the job, according to surveying by the Virginia Health Care Association-Virginia Association of Assisted Living. Since February 2020, the state’s long-term care industry has lost more than 9,500 workers, raising concerns about its recovery and the quality of care that residents are receiving.
“I think the concern is also accessible for people who need nursing level care,” said Amy Hewett, the association’s vice president of strategy and communications. “If there aren’t the direct caregivers there, then facilities have to make those difficult choices to reduce admissions. And then we get into a situation where somebody might not be able to find a place to go.”
The problem hasn’t been confined to any one area of the state. To get a sense of the pandemic’s effect on the overall workforce, VHCA pulled the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which showed industry staffing had reached its lowest level since 2012. The losses “wipe over a decade of growth in employment by these providers,” the association said in a statement, dropping from nearly 79,000 in February of 2020 to about 69,300 in September.
They’re also creating new stressors for an industry that bore some of the worst impacts of COVID-19. According to a survey the association released last month, 81 percent of long-term care facilities reported their workforce situation was worse this year than in 2020 when deaths and hospitalizations among residents and employees peaked. Nearly 30 percent described their current staffing as a “crisis,” and 37 percent reported limiting their census because they didn’t have enough workers.
Joani Latimer, who advocates for residents as Virginia’s long-term care ombudsman, said there’s widespread agreement that staffing in nursing homes is worse than it’s ever been. The losses are creating serious safety concerns for residents, even as new coronavirus infections continue to decline.
The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.
Want NBC12’s top stories in your inbox each morning? Subscribe here.
Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.