Adapting the Long-Term Care Workforce to the Covid-19 Era

Last Updated on January 12, 2022

woman helping senior in a nursing home waring surgical mask and surgical gloves pushing a wheelchair towards a window

Covid-19 vaccinations will soon be underway at nursing and long-term care facilities across the United States. And as we close out the most challenging year for LTCs and nursing homes in living memory — with a long-term care workforce that’s been stretched almost to the breaking point — the relief can’t come a moment too soon.

The reality is that the Covid-19 pandemic has made an enormous impact on the nation’s LTC facilities. And, while every aspect of healthcare has also suffered in 2020, the difficulties facing LTCs have been disproportionately harsh, intensified by pre-existing factors like razor-thin margins and an expressly at-risk patient population.

“Recruiting and retaining quality direct care staff has long been a challenge in nursing homes, and these problems have only been amplified by the pandemic,” in the words of an abstract of a recent Mathematica report on how Covid-19 is intensifying nursing and long-term care workforce challenges.

Indeed, from state to state, in both rural and urban areas, few cities or communities have escaped serious fallout from the novel coronavirus. And with the number of infected patients still rising as we enter 2021, those challenges aren’t going away, even as vaccines are put into widespread use. If you’re running am LTC facility, you may be wondering how to cope with the current situation, and survive another year.

The Challenges Facing The Long-Term Care Workforce

The LTC industry relies upon “the labor of 1.2 million health care personnel and support workers” like LPNs, CNAs and personal care aides, who “typically provide most of the hands-on care,” the authors of the abstract explain. That’s a huge number of direct workers, and it includes only those who are engaged in hands-on care with patients, not the RNs or NPs who may serve in oversight roles.

It’s also a big chunk of the overall healthcare workforce on a national level. And because LTCs were so badly hit by the pandemic, the effects on the long-term care workforce are being felt in other care settings, as well. With large numbers of workers already occupied or even sidelined for reasons related to the pandemic, supplementing those vacancies on a local level has rarely been so difficult.

According to the abstract, the report found that nursing homes are now grappling “with how to retain adequate staffing while rapidly making operational changes to ensure the safety of workers and residents. At the same time, direct care workers are balancing concerns about their own safety, the well-being of the residents they care for, and their financial stability during the pandemic.”

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It’s of little surprise that, after months on the front lines with little reprieve or rest, some workers have become hesitant to re-join the workforce, and some nurses and CNAs are leaving the LTC sector altogether for more favorable settings. The pandemic’s social effects play a role here, too; many direct care workers are parents (one in three CNAs, the report points out) who are dealing with additional parenting duties like home learning.

The result is a surge in demand for direct care workers at a time of extreme scarcity. Helping bolster the supply are emergency policies easing requirements related to licensing and credentialing. This has more readily enabled nurses and clinicians to practice in other states, and enabled the recruitment of retired healthcare professionals and sometimes the fast advancement of students into front-line roles.

How Healthcare Managed Services Can Help

But is it enough? Vaccine developments notwithstanding, the long-term care workforce — and the healthcare workforce in general — is in critical condition. What can LTCs and nursing facilities do to ensure they have the staff they need today, tomorrow and in the years to come?

Shoring up your long-term care workforce is job number one. As the Mathematica abstract points out, ensuring adequate staffing isn’t just essential for patient care. It’s also necessary to preserve staff morale and the retention of current workers in a setting where turnover is already high.  

For facilities that haven’t yet engaged with a workforce specialist, making the move to a nationwide supply of essential workers could quickly shore up any existing or projected shortages. Partnering with a healthcare managed services provider (MSP) provides access to a safety net of additional workers, as well as a direct line to specialists and administrative professionals seeking new career opportunities.

MSPs are designed not only to ensure workforce continuity, but also to drive efficiency and value by patching up any holes in an organization’s healthcare workforce logistics. The idea is to save you the hassle of candidate sourcing and onboarding by plugging you into a nationwide network of healthcare recruitment experts while also offering efficient solutions for vendor management, payroll and more.

Most importantly, though, healthcare MSP solutions can help you scale up your workforce fast in a time of increased need — like the current moment. When you partner with a company like CareerStaff, the nurses, therapists and other professionals you get are highly qualified, ready to work and often willing to travel, including a nationwide network of contingent workers to cover every corner of the United States.

» Read more about how CareerStaff is handling the Covid-19 crisis

The Mathematica report concludes by recommending that facilities leverage any available resources, including CARES Act funding, to bolster their capacity to respond to the Covid-19 crisis, and to keep their workers safe. Healthcare MSP helps you do just that, giving you the support you need to ensure that you and your long-term care workforce are prepared for the year ahead.

If you’re interested in learning how healthcare MSP can help you meet your long-term care workforce goals, we’re standing by to fill in the details! Contact us here to consult a CareerStaff specialist today.

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