Following a May 20 hearing in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee on workforce shortages in health care, long term care advocates said they were encouraged by the attention given to the issue, and the particular focus paid to the unique staffing and funding challenges in nursing homes.

Mark Parkinson, president and chief executive officer of the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), said the committee addressed some vital areas of interest for long term care providers.

“We thank Senator Collins [R-Maine] for bringing attention to the particular shortage of workers within the nursing home sector and how low Medicaid reimbursement rates hamper our ability to compete for medical professionals and caregivers,” he said. “We are also encouraged that members of the committee recognize the need for an increased focus on geriatric medicine, given the rapid growth of our elderly population.”

Parkinson said from day one of the COVID-19 pandemic, heroic caregivers in long term care facilities have stood on the front lines to protect the most vulnerable.

Despite being forgotten at the outset, these individuals worked day and night to protect seniors and individuals with disabilities from the deadly virus, he said. “Their bravery and refusal to give up helped save lives.

“The long term care industry faced widespread staffing challenges long before the pandemic began,” he added. “For years we have called on federal and state governments to implement policies that will help us recruit and retain more staff to our field. The pandemic has exacerbated these shortages, and employment in long term care is on a startling decline. The latest labor report shows that the health care sector lost about 19,500 nursing home and residential care jobs.” 

Looking ahead, he said there will be an increased demand for long term care services, and without more staff, the profession will be unable to meet that demand.

“It’s time for lawmakers to help us address this crisis. We and LeadingAge have proposed the Care for Our Seniors Act, which offers several solutions that will help us strengthen our workforce, and we support the reintroduction of the 2019 Ensuring Seniors Access to Quality Care Act (S 2993) to help retrain certified nurse assistants,” Parkinson said.