As nursing home staffing shortages continue, look to partners to help weather the storm

Date: December 14, 2021 | By: Heather Hutson, RN, IP-BC, Chief Infection Control Officer, AMS Infection Prevention Partners

As we close out another difficult year, we wanted to recognize our tireless healthcare heroes and those who serve our long-term care community so honorably day in and day out. We know it’s been tough - very, very tough. We know you’re understaffed. We understand the exhaustion, stress, and pressures you feel. We know you are doing your best for the residents in your care, under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. I see it every time I’m onsite at one of your facilities.

You are not alone!

Knowing this will hardly ease your daily burden, but it’s worth repeating: You are not alone. Not only are LTC facilities across the country facing the same challenges, but there are partners you can call to help.

 

An alarming 99% of long-term care facilities are understaffed, and 94% of LTC staff turn over annually.

“A recent survey of 1,200 senior care providers by the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), which lobbies on behalf of more than 14,000 nursing homes and long-term care facilities nationwide, paints an even bleaker picture: 99 percent of nursing homes and 96 percent of assisted living facilities said they didn’t have enough workers. And more than a third of nursing homes said they were very concerned that the issue might force them to close,” the AARP reports.

Many of these homes report the biggest staffing shortages since the early days of the pandemic in March 2020. Since then, 186,000 residents and staff have died from COVID-19 in LTC facilities. This represents one-quarter of all COVID deaths in the United States. Working in LTC is already considered the most hazardous work environment of 2020, and many nursing home administrators worry that employment vaccine mandates will exacerbate the staffing shortages.

 

But there are glimmers of hope. Our friends at McKnight’s Long-Term Care News reported that in Washington State, nursing students are working at LTC facilities in an effort to give students hands-on learning while relieving some staffing shortages at facilities.

 

You also have another line of defense – your partners and your infection preventionists (IPs).

 

Empower your IPs

We’re hearing more and more that IPs and Directors of Nursing (DON) are being pulled into general coverage and direct patient care, taking them away from their critical duties in infection prevention and control. Many facilities report these IPs and DONs are so burnt out from conflicting responsibilities and overwork that they’re quitting the facility or leaving long-term care altogether. This has a compounding effect on incoming staff, who are left feeling even more confused and unprepared, and leaves the industry with fewer talented nursing professionals we so desperately need.

 

Infection prevention and control cannot be paused. It’s not something to deal with tomorrow. It must be in real-time, every day, every week, every month. Otherwise, the effects can be devastating, which is why it’s so important to empower your IP.

 

I speak at industry and association events across the country and I’m continually asked how to improve infection prevention and control measures, specifically in the light of staffing shortages. Empower your IPs. An infection preventionist is more than just a title alone - it is a critical role in all LTC facilities, and becomes more important than ever in light of staffing shortages.

 

Think about it: Your infection prevention and control program touches all areas both inside and outside your facility. With so much responsibility, IPs need resources and continuing education. Regulations and best practices change frequently and we know that IPs who stay current and are able to adapt to quickly changing policies and procedures will be successful and serve as an invaluable resource to your facility.

 

They need ongoing support and recognition. IPs ensure the safety and wellbeing of your residents, staff, and everyone who steps foot into your facility. They need a support system in place to serve them and they need to be recognized for their remarkable contributions to the safety of your facility. I say this over and over and over - infection prevention and control is NOT just a box to check to pass your next survey. It takes a steadfast, consistent commitment from your entire staff.

 

It’s hard to believe that we’re putting our second year of the COVID-19 pandemic behind us, particularly given the grim news of what the omicron variant may have in store for us (and for our holiday plans). But we’ve been here before and we’ve survived. And we will again. Remember, you are not alone. We are only a phone call away.

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For more information, contact:

Heather Hutson, RN, IP-BC

Chief Infection Control Officer

AMS Infection Prevention Partners

hhutson@amsonsite.com