Year-end 2022 data puts the nursing home workforce shortage in “stark perspective,” as slow job growth is pitted against regulatory updates and looming staffing mandates.
That’s according to the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL). The aging services organization on Thursday released an analysis of data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
While nursing homes added on average 3,700 jobs per month over the last nine months, the current pace sets back recovery to 2027, according to AHCA’s analysis. A previous analysis estimated workforce recovery to pre-pandemic levels would occur in 2026.
The last BLS jobs report released in December showed that hiring slowed down from October on, pointing to a still growing, but slowing, labor market. About 2,800 jobs were added in November, while the overall health care sector saw payrolls increase by about 45,000 workers.
“The data doesn’t lie,” Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA/NCAL, said in a statement. “This is not just an exaggerated call for help, and this labor crisis will not go away on its own or through government enforcement.”
Parkinson refers to a potential federal staffing mandate due to be revealed in the coming months, along with a study from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). A federal government mandate will only worsen the staffing crisis, according to AHCA’s staffing analysis.
At the same time, facilities are cutting admissions as a result of the staffing crisis, creating a vicious cycle of low occupancy leading to even slimmer margins for operators.
“In some cases, these labor challenges have resulted in nursing homes permanently closing their doors,” AHCA said in its analysis.
Most industries have rebounded, AHCA found, while the nursing home sector is still struggling. The industry has lost 210,000 jobs from February 2020 to December 2022, and current workforce levels haven’t been seen since 1994, according to the BLS report.
And despite provider efforts to recruit new staff, 96% of facilities in an AHCA survey dated Jan. 10 say they are having a hard time doing so. Meanwhile, nearly half of surveyees said their workforce situation has worsened since May 2022. More than 500 providers participated in the survey.
“Our nursing homes are struggling to recruit caregivers, and if we do not get meaningful assistance soon, then the consequence will be hundreds of thousands of seniors displaced,” added Parkinson. “We need immediate support, but we also need long-term investments and programs from policymakers to attract individuals to serve our nation’s seniors.”
By comparison, physician’s offices, outpatient care and home health all saw job gains beyond pre-pandemic levels, seeing 5.8%, 4.2% and 3.6% increases respectively.
Hospitals saw less than a percent increase compared to pre-pandemic numbers, while assisted living is still 0.9% below its February 2020 numbers.
The nursing home sector’s 210,000 jobs lost translates to a 13.3% drop from its pre-pandemic workforce.
Parkinson called on lawmakers to prioritize long-term care, offering solutions that address the root cause of workforce shortages.