BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Across the country, nursing homes are struggling with staffing shortages.
Many nurses have experienced burnout during the pandemic, and those who once would have considered entering the profession are choosing other lines of work, put off by low pay and long hours.
Kern County is no exception.
In fact, staffing shortages at nursing homes have been an issue long before the coronavirus reached the U.S., said Devora Gonzalez, director of Kern County Long-Term Care Ombudsman.
“Covid just basically shed a light on it,” she said. “It showed how many facilities are short-staffed according to the residents’ needs.”
California law requires nursing homes to provide a minimum of 3.5 hours of direct nursing care to residents each day. Many facilities fall short of that due to a provision in the law where they can seek a waiver from the state Department of Public Health justifying the shortage.
Although a waiver may be granted and a facility not penalized, it doesn’t mean the residents are getting the care they’re supposed to under the law, Gonzalez said.
“It’s always a red flag when residents say call lights are on 30 minutes,” she said. Some people need a two-person assist to move them and have to wait because the other person isn’t available. That’s a problem. It’s about individually finding out who needs what and staffing according to that.”
Pay is a major sticking point, said Pat McGinnis, executive director of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform.
Nursing homes are asking certified nursing assistants to work for the same wages offered five years ago. That doesn’t cut it when the work keeps you on your feet and involves a lot of lifting to bathe and dress multiple residents and otherwise watch over them.
McGinnis said it’s an incredibly difficult job, and nurses should be fairly compensated.
“Our philosophy has been for a long time ‘If you pay people enough, they’ll come,'” she said.
Fewer nurses means less direct care.
“The occupancy rates in these facilities are lower than they’ve been in ages,” McGinnis said. “People are very reluctant to go into nursing homes, and who can blame them?”
Cody Rasmussen, 2021 president of the Kern County chapter of California Association of Health Facilities, which represents more than 900 skilled nursing facilities, could not be reached for comment Monday.
The American Health Care Association (AHCA) said the flood of people leaving the profession has placed a strain on the entire health care system, and reports indicate there’s no end in sight. Nursing homes have experienced a 14 percent drop in employment level since the start of the pandemic.
That’s 221,000 jobs.
“The workforce crisis ultimately threatens access to care for vulnerable seniors,” an AHCA release said. “Without immediate solutions, residents who require around-the-clock assistance may be left with fewer options for care. They may have to relocate farther away from their families and community of choice.”
Click here to look at the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform checklist, a list of questions to get a general idea of the quality of care a nursing home provides.