Now more than ever, nursing homes need help.

They face a worker shortage that is becoming a crisis, according to a new survey by the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living. It represents more than 14,000 nursing homes and long term care facilities across the country.

Results from the survey highlight an urgent need for Congress to address the labor shortage facing the long-term care industry.

Key findings, according to the association, include:

  • 86 percent of nursing homes and 77% of assisted living providers said their workforce situation has gotten worse over the last three months.

  • Nearly every nursing home (99%) and assisted living facility (96%) in the U.S. is facing a staffing shortage. A total of 59% of nursing homes and nearly one-third of assisted living providers are experiencing a high level of staffing shortages.

  • More than 7 out of 10 nursing homes and assisted living communities said a lack of qualified candidates and unemployment benefits have been the biggest obstacles in hiring new staff.

  • Due to these shortages, nearly every nursing home and assisted living community is asking staff to work overtime or extra shifts. Nearly 70% of nursing homes are having to hire expensive agency staff. A total of 58% of nursing homes are limiting new admissions.

  • A total of 78% of nursing homes and 71% of assisted living facilities are concerned workforce challenges might force them to close. More than one-third of nursing homes are very concerned about having to shut down their facilities.

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These aren’t just numbers. All those percentage points represent nursing homes and assisted living facilities that not only impact their stretched staffs but also their residents and families who rely on their front-line care.

“The survey demonstrates the severe workforce challenges long-term care providers are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA/NCAL, in a news release issued last week. “Too many facilities are struggling to hire and retain staff that are needed to serve millions of vulnerable residents.”

Parkinson said that lawmakers across the country need to prioritize long-term care and that begins with providing resources to address workforce challenges.

“When facilities have the means to offer competitive wages and training programs, workers will follow,” he said. “We have laid out key proposals in our Care for Our Seniors Act, which will allow us to boost our workforce, but without the help from Congress and state legislators, this will not be possible.”

The workforce part of the act would help facilities supply, attract and retain long-term care workforce by leveraging federal, state and academic entities. It includes loan forgiveness for new graduates who work in long-term care, tax credits for licensed long-term care professionals, programs for affordable housing and childcare assistance, and increased subsidies to professionals’ schools whose graduates work in nursing homes for at least five years.

“Congress has the opportunity right now, through budget reconciliation, to include meaningful investments in long term care, which will help address key staffing challenges, Parkinson points out. “Our caregivers are the backbone of long term care, and they deserve the full support of our lawmakers. We cannot allow facilities to close because of these challenges, which will directly impact residents and their families, especially when lawmakers have the means to help solve this dire situation.”

Nursing homes are there for us when we need them. It’s time for Congress to act and give nursing homes the support they need.