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Long-Term Care Staffing Levels Still Low; More Will Need To Be Done In The Coming Years

Published: Monday, April 19, 2021 - 10:51am

The number of coronavirus cases and deaths in nursing homes is declining in Arizona, according to the latest figures from AARP’s Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard. But there are still challenges, specifically when it comes to long-term care staffing. 

Adequate staffing was a problem even before the pandemic. COVID-19 made it much worse. 

"21.5% of nursing homes still reporting staffing shortages," said Dana Kennedy, director for AARP Arizona. Staff bathe, dress, feed and toilet residents. It’s hard work. "When you're basically burning out your staff is basically what's happening, and then you're not paying them well."

And it’s not just an Arizona problem. Stephen Campbell is the data and policy analyst at PHI, which focuses on improving long-term care services. 

"So over the next decade alone, we can expect there to be 7.4 million job openings and the direct care workforce across the country," he said. "And that is a tall order for the field."

Again, in large part, because of pay. 

"Currently, these jobs are widely recognized as poor quality jobs," he said. "Wages are low; poverty rates are high for these workers. And many of them are relying on public assistance just to make ends meet. And they're leaving the field in droves."

Back in Arizona, Kennedy says her organization will keep asking lawmakers to ensure residents receive high quality care, but even she knows there’s a long road ahead. 

"You know, they're spending more time auditing our ballots, and they're not even auditing what happened in our long term care facilities," Kenney said. 

AARP Arizona continues to fight for reforms to protect nursing home residents and ensure long-term care facilities provide high-quality care. Specifically, AARP Arizona will continue to ask state lawmakers and Gov. Doug Ducey to:

  • Enact or make permanent the components of AARP's five-point plan:
  • Prioritize regular and ongoing testing and adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for residents and staff—as well as for inspectors and any visitors.
  • Improve transparency focused on daily, public reporting of cases and deaths in facilities; communication with families about discharges and transfers; and accountability for state and federal funding that goes to facilities.
  • Ensure access to in-person visitation following federal and state guidelines for safety and require continued access to virtual visitation for all residents.
  • Ensure quality care for residents through adequate staffing, oversight, and access to in-person formal advocates, called long-term care Ombudsmen.
  • Establish minimum nursing staffing standards.
  • Provide supplemental staff wages and benefits during this emergency.
  • Ensure that increases in nursing homes' reimbursement rates are spent on staff pay and to improve protections for residents.
  • Improve minimum wages for staff in residential and home care settings.
  • Ensure progress is made so that in-person visitation can safely occur and facilitate virtual visitation.
  • Create a pathway for single occupancy rooms in nursing homes.