LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky nursing homes are facing a staffing shortage that’s leaving some concerned about the future of their facilities. A survey last month by the Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities (KAHCF) and Kentucky Center for Assisted Living (KCAL) showed 57% of respondents are concerned they may have to close if workforce challenges continue.
In 1989, Kim Hobson started her career at Nazareth Home Highlands, a senior-living facility in Louisville.
“I think of it that I am walking into 62 people’s front doors each day so it’s a great opportunity for me,” Hobson told Spectrum News 1.
Hobson started out as a certified medication technician. Then, she said she graduated from licensed practical nurse or LPN school and sought out other opportunities.
“I really enjoyed working with Ursuline sisters, ended up working, going back to school at Spalding [University], and when I graduated, I had my bachelor's degree in nursing and came back here in 2002,” Hobson explained.
After several other roles, Hobson added director of nursing to her resume in 2009.
Currently, she manages over 150 staff, from certified medical technicians to RNs. All roles ensure someone’s loved one in the facility is cared for.
The pandemic took a toll on nursing home residents, but it also hit staff hard, too.
“We had some really tough days over these past 24 months, and greater many nights I would be here till midnight, but it wasn’t just me. I’d be here with my administrator. I have an amazing assistant director of nursing, you know, it took a village … we all came together,” Hobson said.
Kentucky was already steadily losing skilled nursing facility staff prior to the pandemic. However, the pandemic exacerbated that decline, for the Commonwealth and across the United States.
Since Feb. 2020, health care is down by 450,000 jobs, with nursing and residential care facilities accounting for nearly all of the loss, according to the latest data by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Hobson said more than half of her staff pre-pandemic is still working. However, Nazareth Home Highlands lost many great employees due to circumstances caused by the pandemic, such as child care centers closing and virtual learning for students.
President of Nazareth Home Mary Haynes also said a contributing factor to the skilled nursing shortage is red tape that escalated as COVID-19 hit nursing homes hard.
“If you hadn’t already been here awhile, and then had some perspective and some understanding about all of the federal rules that we have to fulfill daily, then you are like, ‘You know, this is kind of hard,’ “ Haynes said.
Two Kentucky associations that advocate for the Commonwealth’s health care and assisted living facilities, Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities (KAHCF) and Kentucky Center for Assisted Living (KCAL), surveyed its members last month. Feedback shows employees have left long-term care due to a number of factors, such as a lack of competitive wages.
Other reasons employees have left long-term care include staffing agencies, who offer more flexibility and higher wages, recruiting career employees away for short-term contracts, the possible COVID-19 vaccination mandate, and staff burnout and stress.
“What we have started seeing is nursing facilities no longer accepting applications or closing down wings because of staffing shortages,” said KAHCF/KCAL President Betsy Johnson.
To address staffing shortages, Kentucky nursing facilities need to get creative since Johnson and Haynes told Spectrum News 1 that simply boosting salaries to be competitive isn’t an option, since nursing homes are government funded by Medicaid and Medicare.
For example, Nazareth Home Highlands is flexible with employees schedules and focused on creating an environment where employees enjoy working. The organization is also focused on building an employees salary over the long-term by offering career advancement, such as an in-house certified nursing assistant program.
“That opened the door for people who really wanted to be here but couldn’t afford to go to school or they couldn’t go Monday through Friday,” Hobson said. “They were able to come, and they also could work and kind of learn as they go, and that’s been a huge success for us.”
While Haynes with Nazareth Home said its facilities are managing well with its current roster, there are still a number of positions to fill. When hiring for Nazareth Home Highlands, Hobson said she is more focused on quality not quantity.
“If I could just wave a magic wand,” Hobson said, “It would be to just have people who are just committed.”
Hobson further explained that if Nazareth Home Highlands, hypothetically, could get 20 new hires tomorrow, it wouldn’t matter if they don’t have the passion inside for this career.
“If I could have a magic wand, it would be for people to know the value of being a part of the long-term care industry and how rewarding it is.”
Team members, Hobson said, who would see this career as a vocation, and not just a job.
“I have a particular CNA, she came to me, and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to work second shift for you guys for a little while because we are going to get through this,’ “ Hobson said. “That’s the kind of people I want.”
There are about 3,000 open positions in Kentucky’s long-term care facilities, according to the survey from KAHCF/KCAL.
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