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Nursing homes fear staffing needs will extend beyond pandemic

“We are not just competing (for staff) in our sector,’ says Joseph F. DeMattos, president and CEO of the Health Facilities Association of Maryland. “We are competing broadly across the entire health care sector, and in addition to that there is a shortage.” (Submitted Photo)

The nursing and staffing shortage that has hit Maryland has worrisome long-term implications for the state’s nursing home facilities, a top industry official says.

A report released in November by the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living says that while staffing in hospitals, physician offices, outpatient care centers and other facilities has reached or surpassed pre-pandemic staffing levels, nursing homes and assisted living facilities remain significantly below pre-pandemic numbers, with 220,000 and 38,000 jobs lost, respectively, from March 2020 to October 2021.

“There was a workforce shortage across all of health care but more dramatically and specifically in post-acute and long-term care before the pandemic,” said Joseph DeMattos Jr.,  president and CEO of the Health Facilities Association of Maryland, which represents the state’s nursing home industry. “During and as the pandemic evolves, post-acute and long-term care across all settings appear to be the slowest in terms of recovering from COVID-19 job loss.”

When recruiting for positions, DeMattos said, many people don’t realize when a health care provider needs to hire a geriatric nurse’s aide, they are competing not just with other nursing homes but assisted living facilities, home health care agencies, doctor’s offices and in some cases hospitals with specialized units.

“We are not just competing in our sector,” he said. “We are competing broadly across the entire health care sector, and in addition to that there is a shortage.”

DeMattos said professionals in long-term, post-acute care tend to stay in their positions because they feel a real connection to the work. “The longer somebody stays on the job in terms of months (or years), the longer they are retained in the sector,” he said. “… What we learned pre-pandemic and what has been true during the pandemic is if they can stay in the job for the first six months, they are going to stick around, but there is such a high turn rate from day one and month six, which was the case before the pandemic and is the case during the pandemic.”

Overall, Maryland is faring better than many other states when it comes to the nursing shortage.

A recent report by National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care showed Maryland has a 15 percent nursing shortage while the national average is 20 percent.

DeMattos said Maryland generally features higher pay than its neighboring states and offers more career development and growth opportunities. The flip side, he said, is it is more expensive in Maryland to maintain the workforce.

“The cost of recruiting and retaining that workforce in Maryland is also higher than it is in many of the surrounding states,” he said.

In October, Gov. Larry Hogan announced steps the state is taking to help with the health care staffing shortage. Out-of-state registered nurses and licensed practical nurses holding active licenses are now allowed to provide care in Maryland. State nursing programs are now encouraged to allow the earliest graduation possible for qualified nursing students.

Some of these tactics are working, DeMattos said. Additionally, nursing home and other health care employers have learned that three factors can boost recruitment and retention success: astute use of candidate screenings to see if there’s a good match between employer and the potential hire; career ladders that show potential employees growth opportunities; and higher pay or bonuses.

“Recruitment and retention bonuses are helping, but they are difficult to sustain financially over time,” he said.




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