January 18, 2022

‘It’s worse than we’ve seen’: Long-term care facilities see staffing challenges driven by omicron variant

Nursing facilities are struggling to keep staff at work as more test positive for COVID and have to isolate.

COLORADO, USA — With every wave of the pandemic, nursing homes and long-term care facilities are hit hard. This wave might be the hardest.

There are currently more than 200 active COVID outbreaks at assisted living and skilled nursing facilities in Colorado. Most of those outbreaks were reported in the last two months, accounting for nearly 1,500 staff members and nearly 800 residents becoming infected with COVID-19, according to data released by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“It’s worse than we’ve seen throughout the pandemic,” said Doug Farmer, President of the Colorado Health Care Association, an advocacy group for long-term care facilities. “It’s just so many cases that are occurring that the impact on how many people have to stay out of the workforce for a period of time is really very difficult to deal with.”

All those staff members calling out sick at one point or another is causing major challenges for the industry. Fewer beds are available to house people who need them as entire sections of nursing homes are closed because there’s no one to take care of the residents.

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are now being forced to look outside Colorado for staff, paying extra money to fly in contracted nurses and employees to fill the void left by sick staff members or a staff that has been depleted over the course of the pandemic.

“Right now the real focus is on our staffing situation and having to pay so much more than we’ve ever had for these contracted staff members,” Farmer said. “A lot of our providers are in a very serious financial crunch at this point.”

The number of people living in long-term care facilities who have gotten sick is far lower than the number of staff members who have tested positive. It’s believed most employees get sick outside of work. That’s why testing inside those facilities is so important, so they can stop cases from spreading inside the homes once one person is sick.

“We’re going to end up losing more and more workers to burnout, not just to COVID itself,” Farmer said. “The fact that fighting with it day in and day out, working much longer hours than usual, is having a long term effect on providers.”

They’ve asked for money from the state to try to make ends meet so that facilities don’t have to shut down.

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