October 05, 2021
Contact: Eric Heisler, eheisler@phca.org
Cell: 717-678-1031

PHCA survey reveals crisis in long-term care

Severe workforce shortages force providers to halt new admissions

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Oct. 5, 2021) –– Staffing shortages in long-term care facilities are growing at an alarming rate, forcing providers to limit or halt new resident admissions.

The Pennsylvania Health Care Association recently surveyed its members to gather insight on the current state of nursing homes, assisted living communities and personal care homes as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. In a concerning revelation, members that participated in the survey shared they have lost nearly 20% of their workforce since February 2020.

As a result of lack of staff, 74 percent of survey respondents said they had to limit or put on hold admissions within the past six months. This has prompted nearly 50 percent of respondents to create a waitlist for seniors in need of care. A PHCA member in western Pennsylvania shared that their nursing homes recently had to decline 80 percent of resident referrals from hospitals –– patients ready to be discharged and in need of additional care –– as a result of lack of qualified staff.

Limiting new admissions is a proactive step to maintain care for current residents.

“The workforce crisis in long-term care was a concern long before the COVID-19 pandemic, but now we’re seeing the real consequence: our vulnerable seniors in Pennsylvania are being turned away when seeking care,” said Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association. “A direct care workforce shortage means that a state with one of the oldest populations in the country will be unable to meet its obligation to our senior citizens, forcing elderly patients to remain in hospitals, or return home without the resources and support they need.”

Fueling more concern over workforce shortages are the looming COVID-19 vaccine mandates issued by both the city of Philadelphia and the Biden Administration. Hesitancy to receive the vaccine remains, as 34 percent of Pennsylvania nursing home workers –– at least 32,000 healthcare heroes –– are unvaccinated, mirroring the state’s population vaccination rate. At this moment, providers will be forced to terminate unvaccinated workers.

PHCA’s survey also revealed that nearly 40 percent of participating long-term care operators cannot afford to provide care for more than 12 months, forcing them to consider sales or even outright facility closures.

To address this alarming crisis, PHCA is calling on policymakers for support by addressing the following:

  • Invest in the state’s Medicaid program. Nearly 70% of all care provided in Pennsylvania’s nursing homes is paid for by Medicaid, but reimbursement rates have not kept pace with rising costs. Today, rates fall short of the actual cost of care by approximately $50 per resident per day. A state investment in Medicaid will allow providers to invest in their workforce, increase wages and continue caring for our most vulnerable population.
  • Implement COVID-19 vaccine alternatives. Under the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate, providers will be forced to terminate unvaccinated frontline workers, whereas other private sector employers can offer testing alternatives. Nursing homes in Pennsylvania are already testing unvaccinated workers twice a week while applying other stringent infection controls. Forced terminations for healthcare heroes reluctant to receive the vaccine will further jeopardize access to care.

  • Establish innovative policies to support a workforce pipeline. Senate Bill 729, introduced by Senator Judy Ward, allows for more individuals to enter a career in long-term care by conveniently taking classes online, supplemented with clinical training. This initiative, and other innovative legislative approaches, will help grow the workforce pipeline in long-term care.

Complete survey results can be viewed below or by clicking here. A video statement from Shamberg can be viewed and downloaded here.

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