Caring for the elderly takes sacrifice, hard work, and an unwavering commitment to a cause—and that’s what caregivers in Colorado’s long-term care communities possess and demonstrate every day.
As the Regional Nurse for Stellar Senior Living, I see first hand the dedication that goes into caring for our residents. Each senior in our care becomes like family, brightening our days with their jokes and stories and bringing a distinct sense of purpose to each of our careers as we provide them with the highest quality of care that they not only need but so desperately deserve.
We’ve battled a global pandemic, but a new challenge has arisen as we now face an historic labor crisis. There are significant labor shortages in the long-term care sector, which have been exacerbated by a pandemic-related brain drain. Now the Biden administration is considering introducing an unfunded federal minimum staffing contract for nursing homes, which will greatly exacerbate this challenge.
Nursing home caregivers have faced unprecedented stress and burnout during the pandemic, and many have left the company to work for staffing agencies that can offer higher salaries and more flexibility. Insufficient resources and funding have made it difficult to hire more workers. As a result, we are estimated to be short of thousands of employees at pre-pandemic levels. In our 12 communities alone we have more than 240 job offers.
This crisis does not only affect long-term care. From hospitality to food service to other healthcare sectors, labor is in short supply and job vacancies are steadily increasing. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that there are almost two open positions for every unemployed person in our state. Job seekers are likely to choose to work in industries that offer the highest wages and most desirable benefits, and nursing homes often struggle to compete in the job market.
Increasing the federal staffing minimum would cost nursing homes about $10 billion annually and 187,000 new nurses and nursing assistants. With the talent pool already limited and resources thin, it would be impossible for long-term care communities like mine to meet an unfunded federal staffing need.
We’re doing everything we can to recruit more staff, but there’s only so much we can do ourselves. What we need now is government funding to help us get workers back into our care homes. Medicaid is our primary source of funding, but reimbursements don’t cover our expenses — and the gap has only widened over the past two years. Obtaining adequate Medicaid funding is a critical first step in helping us strengthen our workforce.
We need legislators who care about our nation’s seniors. We don’t need unfunded mandates that continue to paralyze nursing homes. Congress must prioritize long-term care facilities and enact meaningful solutions that empower our workforce. Let’s give caregivers the support they need so we can continue to provide the best care possible for our seniors.
Maureen Westfall is a Regional Nurse at Stellar Senior Living in Colorado Springs.