'Permanent shock' to nursing homes? Facilities fail to replace workers who quit after COVID outbreaks

A health worker arrives to take a nose swab sample as part of testing for the coronavirus April 17, 2020, at a nursing and rehabilitation facility in Seattle.
  • Before pandemic, 82% of facilities did not meet recommended staffing levels
  • Pay levels are low and competition from hospitals is steep
  • Industry says inadequate government funding impacts recruitment and retention

Correction & clarification: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes during a surge of cases lasting from late 2020 to early 2021. There were 71,000.

Nursing home staffs shrunk in the weeks and months after severe COVID-19 outbreaks, according to a new study, and federal data shows most facilities lost more than half their nurses and aides in the past year.

The study found facilities have struggled to refill openings, particularly among certified nursing assistants, who provide most bedside care – findings that both complicate and underscore the need for President Joe Biden’s push to establish nationwide staffing-level requirements.

“Will they come back? Or is this going to be a permanent shock to the caregiving workforce?” asked Karen Shen, the health economist who led the study.

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