We Know How COVID-19 Impacted Senior Care Staffing. Now Here’s What We Must Do About It.

Updated on August 19, 2023
Senior african american woman and male doctor in face masks, woman receiving vaccination. retirement and senior lifestyle during covid 19 pandemic concept.

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic is responsible for several million job losses across the globe. However, with so many people falling ill from the virus, you would think that the healthcare industry would be the one sector that remained unaffected by this statistic. But, unfortunately, this isn’t the case. In fact, since the beginning of the pandemic, almost 400,000 skilled nursing facility and long-term care workers have parted ways with their employers. 

Now that businesses have reopened and many people have resumed their careers, many long-term care workers have chosen not to return to their respective positions in search of a path less stressful and far more structured. With so many essential positions remaining unfilled, SNFs and other centers are tasked with the challenge of finding talent to take on new admissions.

What Caused Staffing Levels to Plummet?

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, no one would have predicted that the senior care talent pool would be as dry as it currently is. People just aren’t interested in this line of work anymore, and many of those who had the option to do so found themselves opting for early retirement. While one portion of the staffing population lost their lives at the hands of the deadly virus and another fraction resigned so that they didn’t suffer the same fate, the majority of job losses ensued as a result of poor working conditions and employee burnout.

No industry was prepared to bear the weight of the pandemic, and long-term health workers felt the brunt of the pressure from the very beginning. A call for urgent action left little time to go over the necessary health and safety protocols, and with employees bowing out each and every day, it’s safe to assume that there was no way that each of those measures were being followed at all times.

Such a staffing shortage also reduced the time in which each worker was able to spend with a resident before moving on to the next one. Not only did this structure beg the question as to whether or not patients were receiving adequate treatment as there were only so many caregivers to go around, COVID-19 exposure rates increased exponentially, urging even more staff members to seek employment elsewhere.

How Finances Play a Part in These Challenges

The immediate response to these shortages was to mandate overtime and hire more operational staff. Both of these half-baked solutions backfired before long. This called for industry leaders to put forward a greater effort to retain their existing staff and re-attract past talent. To make good on this mission, facilitators offered salary increases across the board.

But despite this major step in the right direction, it wasn’t and still isn’t enough to bring in the talent and take on more patients in need. What’s more is that long-term care and SNF leaders have continued to express growing concerns about the financial health of their operations, fearing that now is not the time to opt for more expenses. But, as these staffing challenges persist, it appears that putting more money towards the cause is a necessary measure, not just to appease the employee pocketbook but to improve their ability to provide quality care.

Better Training Will Prove to Be the Most-Effective Solution

Centers with a greater number of registered nurses on staff reportedly had fewer cases of the coronavirus and a more positive patient experience overall. This can be attributed to the fact that RNs have received a higher level of training compared to most of the other frontline workers. And while hiring more RNs might solve a lot of recurring issues, most facilities don’t have the budget to support this model.

What can be done, however, is to invest in more helpful resources and extensive training programs to help each employee better understand how to deliver the highest quality of care. This can include extending the opportunity for operational workers to achieve the next level of credentials so long as the facility can afford it.

What Else Can Be Done?

No matter how hard administrators may try to lure in their old staff, many of them won’t even consider re-employment. This is why the focus should shift towards attracting younger hires. The younger workforce is more likely to commit to operations that allow for flexible scheduling, elevated pay rates, and other helpful incentives, like student loan repayment programs. Staffing agencies are another viable solution to revive the senior-care workforce. As these third-party agencies have a growing contact list of eager workers, long-term care administrators can have their pick of the bunch. However, they should be advised that many of these employees lack the necessary credentials and prior healthcare training, so it is still important to have the proper training models in place so that the patient experience won’t suffer.

These long-lived staffing challenges won’t go away with minimal effort. It’s time for administrators across the long-term care sector to take action and make more sound investments to rebuild all that has been lost over the past couple of years. If they fail to restructure their models to prioritize both patient and employee satisfaction, there is no telling if or when this vital healthcare sector will see better days.

Bent Philipson is Founder of Philosophy Care.