COVID-19 pandemic amplifies worsening workforce recruitment and retention efforts
COVID-19 cases have sharply declined in Florida’s skilled nursing centers and assisted living communities, but those facilities continue to experience significant workforce challenges that existed before the pandemic but have only worsened over the past year and a half, the Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) told members of the Florida Senate’s Health Policy Committee this week.
Deborah Franklin, the association’s senior director of quality affairs, told senators that as of the end of September, COVID-19 cases across the state’s nursing centers had declined to where more than 99% of residents and staff remain COVID-free. To ensure continued resident safety, centers are preparing to safely deliver COVID-19 booster shots on-site as they become available.
The state’s nursing centers also continue to encourage staff members to get vaccinated against COVID-19, including by offering financial incentives. COVID-19 vaccination rates are trending upward among the states’ nursing center staff members, with over 53% of them currently inoculated.
Franklin said FHCA believes staff vaccination rates will continue to improve based on the directive to make vaccinations a requirement among health care staff, including those working in nursing centers. However, she added, there are concerns that the federal mandate could impact ongoing long term care staffing challenges.
“While we are encouraged by the progress we’ve made in our fight against COVID-19, the pandemic has exacerbated the double-edged workforce and financial crisis that continues to threaten the state’s nursing centers and the residents they care for,” Franklin said. “I use the term crisis because no word better describes the increasingly problematic situation our care centers are in. It’s never been more important that we resolve this crisis and support our health care heroes so they may continue to care for Florida’s most vulnerable.”
According to a July survey conducted by FHCA, 88% of members said their workforce situation has gotten worse since 2020. In addition, 74% of nursing homes were forced to use temporary staff at least once in the previous month and 52% had to reduce admissions because of staffing challenges. These staffing challenges require financial solutions, but nursing centers are undergoing financial strain – the study found that 59% of facilities are operating at a loss or negative total margin.
Long term care providers continue to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on personal protective equipment and staffing solutions to care for and protect residents and front-line workers. Costs per patient day are up almost $42 compared to before pre-pandemic, resulting in an additional cost of $660 million the profession annually. Almost two-thirds of FHCA members (63%) said their facility’s budget cannot sustain current efforts to meet staffing needs for more than six months.
“Florida’s nursing centers simply cannot resolve this growing crisis on their own,” Franklin said. “FHCA looks forward to working with the Legislature this upcoming legislative session on solutions to further support our long term care centers, their front-line caregivers, and the residents entrusted to our care.”
ABOUT THE FLORIDA HEALTH CARE ASSOCIATION
The Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) is a federation that serves nearly 1,000 members and represents more than 500 long-term care facilities that provide skilled nursing, post-acute and subacute care, short-term rehab, assisted living, and other services to the elderly and individuals with disabilities in Florida. The mission of FHCA is to advance the quality of services, image, professional development, and financial stability of its members. As Florida’s first and largest advocacy organization for long-term care providers and the elderly they serve, the Association has worked diligently since 1954 to assist its members with continuously improving quality of care and quality of life for the state’s growing elder care population. For more information about the Florida Health Care Association, visit http://www.fhca.org.