Nearly two years after the COVID-19 virus invaded, wreaked havoc on the sick, elderly and vulnerable, the industry relied upon to care for these individuals is in a full-blown crisis, industry leaders say.
Costs are up dramatically but revenues are down and new employees are almost impossible to come by according to Kristen Knapp, spokesperson for the Florida Health Care Association, the state’s leading association for nursing homes.
COVID fears, childcare issues, low wages and retirement are all continuing to drive employees out of the industry.
Luke Neumann helps operate 14 nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Florida for Palm Garden Healthcare.
“I’m extremely worried,” when asked about the industry’s current state.
At his own facilities, the staff shortage stands at around 10% at each facility forcing historic implications for the company.
“Yes, we’ve had to limit admissions,” he added.
Knapp said every one of her association members, at some point, has had to look at limiting admissions.
“I’ve never seen it in almost 14 years, I’ve never seen it this bad,” Knapp said.
The staffing crisis has left long-term care centers across the state resorting to temporary staffing agencies to fill its voids since the federal government requires certain resident-to-staff ratios to continue operating and accepting residents.
However, temporary staffing in long-term care isn’t ideal since residents of long-term care often need consistency and familiarity with workers. Temporary staffing is also a tremendous expense for facilities. Agency workers can earn up to double or even triple their hourly wage with an agency versus if they were employed by the facility itself, Knapp explained.
“It’s unsustainable,” Knapp said. “You have some staff members leaving facilities and going to work for an agency getting paid more by the agency. Then they’re getting sent back to a facility, so that doesn’t bode well for staff morale,” Knapp said.
The significant increase in staffing costs has some in the industry raising questions about price gauging or profiting off the elderly.
Long-term care is a service and not a product so there are no laws on the books stopping staffing agencies from charging what they want.
“There needs to be some sort of regulatory commission. Someone has to step in and say you are profiteering off the backs of our treasured elders. It’s not right,” said Neumann, whose company is also having to utilize staffing agencies to fill some of their vacancies.
In Tallahassee recently, Tracey Greene of Southern Healthcare Management, which operates 29 long-term care facilities in Florida, testified before a health committee and explained how temporary staffing costs for her group have increased from $100,000 per month in 2019 to over $2 million per month this year.
“We’re not alone,” Greene said. “I love this industry but I’m really afraid of what the future holds.”
Gulf Coast Healthcare, which has 28 facilities across Florida, Georgia and Mississippi, recently filed for bankruptcy citing, “significant fiscal challenges” stemming from the pandemic.
At Palm Garden, much like other facilities, the company has increased wages for workers and is now offering to pay education and training costs for workers to become certified nursing assistants, LPN’s and executives.
But for an industry that gets paid by the government, the question remains how long it can keep operating without the government stepping in to save it.
“The future of long term care in Florida and across the nation is in jeopardy. It cannot persist as it is now,” said Neumann.