North Carolina's nursing homes and adult care facilities face staffing shortages
Labor shortages have grown at many nursing homes and adult care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in North Carolina, the state's Assisted Living Association says the shortage has reached a crisis level.
Nationally, there's been a 14% drop in nursing home staffing levels during the pandemic, and an 8% drop in staffing levels at assisted care facilities, according to an analysis of government data by the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living.
Frances Messer, president of the North Carolina Assisted Living Association, said those numbers are reflected in North Carolina, where many adult care homes, especially in rural areas, have been squeezed by high staff turnover and dwindling applicants.
"We're in a crisis. We're in a staffing crisis," Messer said, "And it affects not just the folks who are working and providing services, it affects those residents who need a place to go."
Many facilities have stopped accepting new residents as they try to fill those vacancies, Messer said, and staff at many facilities are working overtime, sometimes going weeks without a day off, just to accommodate current residents.
Some managers and medical staff members are also getting cross-trained to help with feeding, cleaning and other tasks that might be outside of their normal duties to help manage the workload.
In North Carolina, there are 423 licensed nursing homes, 504 licensed adult care homes, 591 licensed family care homes and hundreds of other special care facilities, overnight respite facilities and multi-unit assisted living facilities.
Messer said a shortage of registered nurses is particularly worrisome because registered nurses typically help train and certify other staff members for adult care facilities. Without them, facilities can have a harder time getting staff members their needed certifications.
Adult care homes are expected to receive extra funds this year through North Carolina's new state budget, but it's unclear how or when those funds will be distributed.
Messer said many facilities have raised wages and expanded health benefits, but have still struggled to find applicants, even as the need for more staff has heightened during the pandemic.
She also said many facilities rely heavily on payments from Medicaid, and without additional funding through the Medicaid program, many facilities may be limited in how much they can raise wages.
In a statement to WFAE, the North Carolina Assisted Living Association said it is working with many facilities around the state to find new applicants through the NC Works program, local workforce development boards and Apprenticeship NC.
The association is also working on a collaborative called Generation CARE, which will connect senior living providers with potential students and employees.