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Worker shortage leaves some long-term care facilities freezing new admissions, limiting visits

Pandemic burn-out, unemployment benefits blamed for driving staff away
Nursing homes
Posted at 10:19 PM, May 26, 2021

Florida’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities are in desperate need of help, human help.

The industry, which has long suffered from an employee shortage and high worker turnover, describes its employee shortage as its top concern right now after a year of battling one crisis after another.

“I think COVID has just worn us all out,” said Sandi Poreda, spokesperson for Florida’s Senior Living Association.

The industry association represents more than 450 assisted living facilities in the Sunshine State.

Poreda says burnout coupled with competition from government unemployment benefits are among the reasons long-term care employees are walking out the door in droves.

“Managers are stepping in to cover shifts, so you’re looking at burnout pretty quickly. It’s not a sustainable position right now,” explained Poreda.

The result is leaving some facilities even turning people away. According to the Florida Healthcare Association, which represents nursing homes across the state, some facilities freezing new admissions. In other cases, family members are being met with limited visitation hours.

“It’s a huge challenge,” said Kristen Knapp, spokesperson for the Florida Healthcare Association.

Nursing homes are primarily funding by Medicaid, which limits a facility’s ability to raise costs because rates are set by the government, explained Knapp.

Robb Zurwell of Cocoa Beach has yet to visit his loved one who recently moved into a nursing home in Palm Beach County. The facility is limiting when people can visit residents, how long they can stay and all visits must be booked in advance.

“Why do I need an appointment? Why is it limited to 30 minutes,” a frustrated Zurwell asked.

He also said his loved one’s daily aide was turned away on a recent Saturday since the visit was outside the center’s Monday-Friday visitation hours.

“To have our caregiver turned away and told your visitation will only be allowed for a small period of time, that’s not what they’re paid for. They’re paid for 8 hours,” Zurwell said.

A spokesperson from the facility’s parent company told us they are “meeting or exceeding state staffing ratios” but added, “to meet the CDC’s requirements for safe visitation, additional staffing resources are needed and only available during limited hours.”

In an effort to attract new hires, some long-term care facilities are offering sign-on bonuses and increasing wages. Other centers have been relying on outside staffing agencies to fill the vacancies inside.

Since assisted living facilities are typically paid for by the resident and not the government, it’s unclear if or how the worker shortage crisis will impact resident rates. For now, centers are focused on finding care in an industry where care can’t stop.

“We don’t have the option to reduce our operating hours. It’s a critical time right now,” said Poreda.