EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Nursing homes across Rhode Island are up against the clock when it comes to getting their staffing levels where they need to be.
As facilities statewide deal with workforce shortages, a new law establishing long-term care standards goes into effect next month, which includes a staffing mandate.
According to the latest jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nursing and residential care centers lost 11,000 jobs in November.
“They’re overworked, they’re burnt out, so trying to recruit and obtain new workers is difficult,” explained Jim Nyberg, executive director of LeadingAgeRI.
Nyberg said a recent survey on staffing in Rhode Island’s nursing homes revealed there are more than 1,900 open positions in long-term care facilities, while 28 facilities have had to shut down rooms or whole units because they were unable to staff them.
“It’s not only a workforce issue, it’s become an access-to-care issue,” Nyberg added.
12 News reached out to some facilities to find out what they’re dealing with.
“Recruitment and retention of caregivers is something every health care provider in the state and region is struggling with at this time for a number of reasons, and recruitment of nursing home staff has always been challenging,” Tim Brown, a spokesperson for Athena Health Care Systems, said in a statement.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated that challenge,” Brown continued. “Summit Commons, as well as most nursing homes, assisted living centers, and hospitals across the state and country continue to struggle to recruit all levels of staff to provide care.”
Jefferey Jacomowitz, a spokesperson for Oak Hill Center, Bannister Center and Kingston Center, told 12 News they’re “working with nursing agencies to bring in folks where and when needed,” adding that all three facilities are offering bonus days to staffers who want to earn extra money.
Rod Gauvin, the owner of Alpine Nursing Home in Coventry, said retirement is a big factor.
“Losing even one staff member who had years of experience hurts,” he said.
Gauvin said he lost only five nurses since the onset of the pandemic and the reasons varied from not wanting to get vaccinated to retirement.
“Of those five, I would say three of them were older who had some experience and it’s hard to replace that,” Gauvin added.
There are additional reasons why the industry is losing workers, according to Nyberg.
“The number-one issue is funding, which unfortunately has been an issue in the industry for a while, but it has been exacerbated by COVID,” he said. “It’s a multifaceted problem with no one single solution. It involves a combination of things: funding, workforce development, and related measures.”
The new law provides funding to raise wages and help recruit and retrain staffers. However, Nyberg said if providers don’t reach a certain number of workers in time, they could be financially penalized.