Guest columnist Fred Watson writes that Biden administration plans to set minimum staffing levels for nursing homes is unworkable.
The Biden administration is expected to soon issue a federal minimum staffing mandate for long term care facilities as a remedy for the nursing home sector’s labor shortage. In theory, it seems well intentioned, but in practice, it’s unworkable.
I know the ins and outs of the long term care industry having served as an administrator at several nursing homes and as leader of the state association that represents the industry. I know the realities that nursing homes across Georgia and the country are facing, and I know this proposed mandate will only exacerbate existing problems and hurt our seniors’ access to care.
Nursing homes are already doing all that they can to rebuild their workforce, but the health care sector broadly is facing a nationwide labor shortage. Nursing homes have been affected the worst. Nationwide, nursing homes need nearly 200,000 workers to return to pre-pandemic staffing levels, but there is a limited number of interested workers who are qualified to fill the many open positions.
Current staffing shortages are forcing many nursing homes to limit resident admissions. This creates a ripple effect across the entire health care system. Hospital patients who are waiting to be discharged to a nursing home to rehabilitate are left waiting days, weeks and in some cases, months to be discharged to a nursing home because there isn’t a facility available with the staffing capacity to take them.
A federal minimum staffing mandate does not take our current circumstances into account. If it did, the Biden administration would understand that requiring facilities to meet an arbitrary staffing ratio during a historic labor shortage of workers is unattainable. Not to mention, the mandate comes with no federal resources to aid in hiring efforts, which would further strain our underfunded facilities.
Georgia already has a state minimum staffing requirement for certified nursing assistants (CNAs). Duplicating efforts with a federal mandate does not consider what individual states may already be doing. A blanket federal staffing regulation will only hurt nursing homes and limit access to care for those who need it the most.
The Peach State is also getting older. Our state’s median age has risen 4% over the last decade, much higher than the 2.7% national increase, meaning more people will eventually need long term care. If we want to make sure our elderly loved ones have access to the high-quality care they need, strengthening the long term care workforce has never been more important.
Our lawmakers should be prioritizing and investing in the long term care workforce. They can do this by supporting policies that help us build a strong labor force of dedicated caregivers. Policies that incentivize workers to join the long term care sector, such as forgiving student loan debt, offering tax credits, affordable housing and even childcare assistance, are smart ideas that will actually make a difference.
Our nursing homes need help, but not in the form of a one-size-fits-all federal mandate. Georgia’s seniors deserve better, and our lawmakers in Washington have a duty to help. Senators Warnock and Ossoff should stand with our seniors and work with the long term care industry on collaborative and meaningful solutions.
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