Our country is currently facing a dire staffing shortage when it comes to nurses and caregivers. The Virginia Mercury recently reported that according to a survey of 170 Virginia nursing homes from this fall, 44 percent of homes have been forced to pause new admissions at least once since June 1 because they have been unable to find enough nurses and caregivers to care for residents. More than 90 percent of nursing homes surveyed said they have had to ask employees to work overtime or take extra shifts due to the lack of staff.
Not only is this problem nationwide, unfortunately it’s not a new one. Since the late 1980s, due to staffing shortages, regulators have put in place requirements to ensure nursing homes have “sufficient nursing staff” and that there is a registered nurse (RN) on site for a minimum of eight hours a day.
The problem was then exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nursing homes nationwide lost about 245,000 employees during the pandemic. As of April, the sector has only regained 55,000 of those workers.
It takes a special person to care for our sick and elderly. The job is not only physically demanding, but also mentally taxing. This has led to high turnover rates for nursing staff (52% in one year).
Our country must find new ways to alleviate this problem as soon as possible, as it is only expected to get worse due to our ageing population.
On September 1st, the Biden Administration released a proposed rule that will have the unintended consequence of making our nursing shortage worse. Nursing homes would have to ensure a registered nurse is on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
While the intent of this rule has merit, we must face the reality we live in – our country does not have enough nurses and caregivers. This minimum staffing standard would not only significantly raise costs for residents but would also lead to the closure of nursing homes that can’t meet the new staffing requirements. This is particularly true in rural areas where there is an even greater shortage of nurses and caregivers.
During a recent Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee hearing, we discussed this crisis and the proposed CMS rule.
During the hearing, I spoke to witnesses about one possible alternative option. When I was in the Virginia House of Delegates, I drafted a law that waived zoning requirements for residents that wanted to erect temporary family health care structures on their property or the property of a family member. This structure would allow families to keep their loved ones in need of assistance close by, instead of seeking out a full-time care facility. This allows the individual in need of care to stay close to family. In this scenario, family will take care of some basic needs, thus health care workers can be brought in for periods of time as needed. This should have the benefit of lowering costs and hopefully lead to a lower burnout rate for our nurses.
This could have been beneficial for a family in Blacksburg who testified on the bill. The parents attempted to bring their sick son home multiple times, but because they didn’t have a medically sterile room, their son kept getting infections. In order to properly care for their son, both parents quit their jobs to be with him at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville during the last months of his life. Had the parents had the option to build a medically outfitted tiny home, their son could have stayed in Blacksburg close to family and friends.
Will this solve our nursing shortage? No. Is this a perfect solution? No. Will it work for every family? No. But we have to start thinking outside the box if we are going to solve this problem. I am working on a federal level to get partial reimbursement for the cost of these temporary structures.
If you have any ideas on how to help alleviate our nurse staffing shortage or other ways to help care for the elderly and those with significant medical needs, I’d like to hear from you.
If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov. Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.
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