Kimberly Marselas

“Four more years” is the kind of boisterous campaign chant that punctuates the end of political rallies, with riled up fans going hoarse with the idea of sustained success.

But the American Health Care Association changed that connotation Monday with its latest projections on workforce recovery.

Instead of a joyful refrain, “four more years” could be a nursing home death knell for some facilities.

At the current hiring pace, it will take until 2026 for providers to recapture all of the workers they’ve lost since the beginning of the pandemic.

Anyone who works in skilled nursing knows recruitment continues to be a slog. That’s the way Sabra Health Care REIT CEO Rick Matros categorized it just last week, when analysts quizzed him about ongoing workforce pressures in an earnings call.

Now, a slog doesn’t sound fun necessarily, but it feels like something one can work through. 

What nursing homes face may be more difficult than a trudge through knee-deep mud. How many nursing home caregivers have it in them to continue picking up extra shifts, taking on extra daily tasks and skipping hard-earned vacations? For how long?

For many weary workers, another four years of being overworked might just prove to be an impossible, untenable ask.

Next week, we’ll be reporting on the fourth annual McKnight’s Mood of the Market survey. While I can’t spoil the story here, let’s just say some of the results are funereal, workers’ frustration all too real.

None of us can really ignore the impacts of super low unemployment in our daily lives, which has led to long lines at most stores, shorter hours at many, and crummy service all around.

But if you work in a nursing home or need to move a loved one into one, you can’t escape it. Too many facilities continue to limit admissions or close outright because they can’t find staff to meet basic care minimums safely.

And that’s exactly why AHCA President Mark Parkinson beseeched the federal government to play a larger role (and do it quickly) in “addressing the root causes of the staffing challenges in nursing homes” and developing comprehensive, long-term fixes.

The idea is that the right kind of strategic help could shorten the window of misery.

“The long-term care workforce needs a boost now,” he said Monday. “We urge federal and state policymakers to put their support behind policies that attract and retain caregivers for our nation’s seniors.”

While some of the experts I’ve spoken with in the past week are surprised that so many nursing home workers still seem prepared to leave their jobs — or the sector all together — others think continued turnover will continue leading to continued turnover.

Until someone finds a way to stem the tide, job dissatisfaction will continue to mount. Workers won’t be lining up their friends for open positions, not if they want to keep them anyway.

Without funding and regulatory policies that acknowledge the challenges, we’ll be lucky if skilled nursing facilities can keep pace with the few thousand jobs they’ve been adding monthly.

If that slows or begins to fall off again, four more years could easily become five or more. And that’s a campaign no one wants to endorse.

Kimberly Marselas is senior editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.