The omicron wave has caused an unprecedented staffing crisis in New York nationwide, according to a recent report by NPR. With cases spiking in mid-January, at least 40,000 nursing home residents received positive tests during the week ending January 14th, “almost a 10-fold rise since November.” Employee cases, meanwhile, reached “more than 67,000 cases” the week ending January 7th, before declining the subsequent week, per data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Industry leaders noted that despite the rising case numbers, high vaccination rates in nursing homes have staved off more severe outcomes. “Largely because our resident population is so heavily vaccinated, we aren’t seeing large numbers of deaths as we did much earlier during the pandemic,” the president of Leading Age, a nonprofit nursing home group, told NPR. That doesn’t mean nursing home have avoided Covid fatalities during this surge, however: nursing homes reported 988 deaths during the week ending January 14th, and the numbers may keep rising. “Older adults who live in nursing homes have underlying health conditions,” the president of Leading Age told NPR. “They tend to be frail. They live in a nursing home because they need 24-7 nursing care. And we know from the beginning of this pandemic that that’s the population that was most at risk and that hasn’t changed.”
As the report goes on to note, employee infections may pose a bigger risk than resident infections, given the “historic” staff shortages they’re causing. Although 84% of staff at nursing homes and long-term care facilities are currently fully vaccinated, only 30% have reportedly received boosters, a figure that represents “less than half the number of residents who are boosted.”
According to NPR, the consequences are clear: staff shortages that result in adverse care outcomes. As New Jersey’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman said, “We are certainly seeing a huge increase in the number of calls from residents who are saying that they are not being changed, they’re not receiving their meals on time… That happens when you don’t have enough staff.” Despite state rules mandating staffing ratios of one certified nursing assistant for every eight residents during a day shift, she added, her office “has received complaints that facilities have one nursing assistant taking care of more than 50 residents.”
Some facilities have responded to staffing shortages by closing entirely, according to Leading Age. Others have shut down individual wings or taken fewer residents, decisions that in turn make it difficult for hospitals to discharge patients to nursing homes. “It starts backing up all along the chain,” a Washington-based doctor said of the broader effects of nursing home staff shortages. “And then you start seeing it come out with long wait times, E.R. patients in hallways, waiting rooms, because they’re not ready to go home, but they can’t get a bed.”
More information on nursing home staff shortages during the omicron wave is available via NPR.
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