Pennsylvania nursing homes say they are coping with dire staffing shortages that have forced many of them to stop accepting new residents, which in turn is preventing hospitals jammed with COVID-19 patients from discharging those who require lower levels of care.
Industry officials met with Gov. Tom Wolf's administration this week to ask for help, and to press their case for a $200 million infusion from the state's share of the federal coronavirus relief package signed by President Joe Biden in March. Long-term care facilities say the money would be spent on retention bonuses for current workers.
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"This is the worst workforce crisis I've ever seen, and there honestly seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel," said Anne Henry, senior vice president and chief government affairs officer at LeadingAge PA, a trade group.
The workforce crunch at skilled nursing homes and personal care facilities is having a spillover effect on hospitals, which are under strain from a 55% increase in COVID-19 patients since mid-November. Hospitals are treating more than 4,500 patients infected with the coronavirus, according to the state Department of Health, and are desperate to free up bed space and ease lengthy wait times in emergency rooms.
"Some of the skilled care facilities are having difficulty finding employees, and therefore it makes discharging from hospitals much more difficult," said Dr. Michael Seim, senior vice president and chief quality officer at WellSpan Health.
WellSpan, whose hospitals in south-central Pennsylvania have largely run out of beds because of the latest pandemic surge, typically cares for 30 to 50 patients who could otherwise be discharged to nursing homes if they had the staffing to care for them. Trying to gain bed space, WellSpan recently began sending its own nurses and aides to SpiriTrust Lutheran — which runs senior living facilities in WellSpan's service area — to help boost staffing levels.
Geisinger, a large health system in central and northeastern Pennsylvania that is also short on beds because of the COVID-19 surge, said gridlock at nursing homes, rehab centers and psychiatric facilities is contributing to its capacity woes. The average length of stay at Geisinger hospitals has nearly doubled to eight days, according to Dr. Jaewon Ryu, president and chief executive officer.