Nursing homes in Pennsylvania say they are dealing with a severe staff shortage that has forced many of them to stop admitting new residents, which in turn prevents hospitals overcrowded with COVID-19 patients from discharging those who do need a lower level of care.
Industry officials met with Governor Tom Wolf’s administration this week to seek help and urge their call for a $ 200 million infusion from the state portion of the federal coronavirus aid package launched by President Joe Biden in March was signed. Long-term care facilities say the money would be spent on loyalty bonuses for current workers.
“This is the worst human resource crisis I’ve ever experienced, and frankly, there doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel,” said Anne Henry, senior vice president and chief government affairs officer for LeadingAge PA, a trading group.
The shortage of staff in skilled nursing homes and personal care facilities is having a spillover effect on hospitals, burdened by a 55% increase in COVID-19 patients since mid-November. According to the state Ministry of Health, hospitals are treating more than 4,500 patients infected with the coronavirus and are trying desperately to free beds and ease long waiting times in emergency rooms.
“Some of the qualified nursing homes are having difficulty finding staff, making it very difficult to discharge from hospitals,” said Dr. Michael Seim, Senior Vice President and Chief Quality Officer at WellSpan Health.
WellSpan, whose hospitals in south-central Pennsylvania are largely out of beds due to the recent surge in pandemic, typically cares for 30 to 50 patients who could otherwise be discharged to nursing homes if they had the staff to look after them To take care of. WellSpan tried to gain bed space and recently began sending its own nurses and helpers to SpiriTrust Lutheran, who operates senior housing facilities in WellSpan’s service area, to increase staffing levels.
Geisinger, a large health system in central and northeastern Pennsylvania that is also short of beds due to the surge in COVID-19, said the deadlock in nursing homes, rehab centers and mental health facilities is adding to its capacity problems. According to Dr. Jaewon Ryu, President and Chief Executive Officer, nearly doubled to eight days.
Nursing home labor shortages preceded the pandemic but has worsened in the past two years in a state with one of the highest proportions of the elderly in the country.
A recent survey of long-term care facilities found that 20% of long-term care workers – that’s tens of thousands of people – have moved away since early 2020, with the result that 85% of nursing homes in Pennsylvania now limit new admissions. A nursing home operator in western Pennsylvania said 80% of referrals from hospital residents are decreasing, the survey said.
“It really has become a vicious circle. When hospitals can’t accept nursing homes due to staff shortages, that backlog arises and it really has a negative impact on both acute and post-acute healthcare in Pennsylvania, ”said Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, a nursing home trade group who conducted the survey among its members.
The group said it is pushing the Wolf administration into a “comprehensive plan” to resolve staffing shortages and has offered to train members of the National Guard as temporary nurses in the event a large-scale deployment is required.
The National Guard has occasionally made temporary assignments in nursing homes. In October, a small guard stayed a few days at Berks Home, a county-run nursing home in Berks County, to keep staff up and running. There are currently 21 service members in three nursing homes in northeast and western Pennsylvania, said Captain Travis Mueller.
GOP leaders in the House of Representatives and Senate, meanwhile, called on the Wolf administration on Friday to shift the focus of the state’s COVID-19 task force – which had dealt with nationwide vaccine distribution – to capacity challenges in hospitals and health systems.
“The feedback we hear from our local hospitals in our communities is that most of them are working at 110% capacity with fewer ICU and medical-surgical beds available every day,” the Republican letter said.
Wolf, a Democrat, responded in a letter that “the most important thing that members (of the General Assembly) can do now to help our hospitals is to urge all eligible voters to get vaccinated.”
Patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19 are mostly unvaccinated.
Through MICHAEL RUBINKAM
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