Maybe the saddest aspect of the harm done to nursing homes by the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent damage caused by the scandal over preventable resident deaths during the Cuomo administration is that the story is not over yet.

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the nation have lost more than 250,000 employees since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, according to a report released this week. Long-term care facilities continue to suffer the worst labor crisis and job losses than any other health care sector, with 220,000 U.S. nursing home jobs lost during the pandemic, down to 1.36 million from 1.58 million in March 2020 — a decline of 14%, according to the report released last week by the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living.

Meanwhile, employment opportunities at assisted living communities nationwide have declined by at least 38,000 since the pandemic began, down to about 427,000 jobs from 465,000. About 86% of nursing homes and 77% of assisted living providers said their workforce situation deteriorated this summer, with 99% of nursing homes and 96% of assisted living facilities facing a staffing shortage. About 58% of nursing homes are limiting new admissions due to shortages.

Facility staffing was not much of an issue prior to the pandemic. More than seven out of 10 nursing homes and assisted living communities surveyed this fall cited a lack of qualified candidates and unemployment benefits as the biggest obstacles in hiring new staff, despite the enhanced pandemic unemployment benefits ending Sept. 6. By comparison, hospitals, outpatient care centers and other health care facilities have regained or surpassed pre-pandemic staffing levels, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data from October.

Caregivers are falling to a condition almost as debilitating as the coronavirus: Burnout. Workers are leaving nursing homes for jobs in other health care settings or other fields altogether. Chronic Medicaid underfunding combined with billions of dollars providers invested to fight the pandemic have left long-term care providers struggling to compete for qualified staff.

If we want to reverse this trend, we need the support of our elected leaders to help attract and retain more caregivers. Once again, the lives of the nation’s most vulnerable people face a new nursing home crisis.

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