Last year, as the pandemic raged in New York City and sirens filled the air, a group of young travel nurses arrived to assist weary long-term care teams. They took over nursing stations that had been depleted due to positive COVID tests and allowed healthy staffers working doubles to get some rest. They gave us hope that after being ignored in the COVID-19 war zone, we were finally getting help.
There may not be sirens blaring outside today, but the need for staff reinforcements is even more dire now.
The current alarm bells are headlines about facilities closing or limiting admissions due to lack of staff, the McKnight’sMood of the Market Survey results showing that directors of nursing and administrators would rather have more employees than more money, an AHCA/NCAL survey indicating that just 1% of nursing homes are fully staffed, and the level of burnout being experienced at all levels of the field.
Less visible alarms are the quiet complaints of exhausted workers telling their colleagues that “it’s too much,” the incessant ring of unanswered call bells and the flashing message lights of family phone calls that go unreturned.
The reality of the current short-staffing is probably even worse than the data indicate, due to an increase in acuity of the residents, greater numbers of residents with serious mental health problems and the level of burnout among workers who have been subject to cascading collective trauma due to COVID-19.
Nursing homes need immediate “boots on the ground” to ease the situation, followed by further steps to ensure adequate staffing.
Increasing the number of workers costs money, but there are costs to failing to increase the number of workers.