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Virginia long-term care facilities and nursing homes struggle with workers

Roanoke, Virginia – Thousands of long-term care facilities and nursing homes across the nation are struggling with workers despite state and federal help through different programs to somewhat combat this problem. Low pay and poor working conditions seem to be the major issues when it comes to the worker shortage.

Working in a nursing home can be physically and emotionally demanding, which can be a deterrent for some workers. Managements fail to retain workers and have difficulties attracting potential employees because these facilities usually don’t offer competitive wages or benefits, while workers are required to work over the weekends and in shifts in most cases. The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a significant impact on the nursing home industry, with many workers getting sick or needing to quarantine, and others choosing to leave the field due to the risk of exposure to the virus.

Recently, the Virginia Department of Health was granted nearly $10 million in ARPA funds to assist and support nine organizations in the state in their efforts to accelerate COVID-19 recovery. All nine organizations are long-term care facilities and nursing homes. One of them is based in Roanoke, the Carilion Clinic, which will receive a total of $800,000. Officials with the clinic said the money will be used for hiring infection prevention specialists, as those positions are currently the most critical.

Although this is only one of many similar programs, the worker shortage problem in Virginia’s long-term care facilities and nursing homes has gotten worse this year. According to a recent Virginia Health Care Association survey, most of the Virginia long-term care facilities and nursing homes are facing serious nurse and nursing assistant shortages.

In an effort to combat this concerning trend, most facilities now offer bonuses for overtime hours, as well as working on weekends. In addition, almost every single facility in the state has already increased or is thinking about increasing pay for workers.

“What these hiring and workforce challenges have meant is really that facilities are limiting admissions,” said Amy Hewett with the Virginia Health Care Association. “The rock bottom of low employment in our sector was earlier this year and there has been this slight upward tick,” she added. “Although recovery is much slower in this sector than other areas, say hospitality and retail.”

Hewett pointed out that increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates would help in solving this issue since most of the residents in the facilities cover their expenses through Medicaid. Nursing home managements can then offer much better pay and more benefits to workers, making the open positions more attractive in a highly competitive job market with private hospitals.

Donald Wolfe

Donald’s writings have appeared in HuffPost, Washington Examiner, The Saturday Evening Post, and The Virginian-Pilot, among other publications. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia. He is the Virginian Tribune's Publisher.

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