The biggest challenge facing certified nursing assistants is the effects of the historic staffing shortage, according to a new survey.

The National Association of Health Care Assistants surveyed 650 CNAs on their work during the pandemic. They were asked for feedback on their biggest on-the-job challenges, reasons for leaving or wanting to leave their jobs, and what it would take for long-term and post-acute care employers to hire them back.

“This survey reveals not only that CNAs are burned out and frustrated, but also that the CNA staffing shortage itself is posing the greatest challenge to their work right now,” NAHCA co-founder and CEO Lori Porter posted on LinkedIn. “In other words, CNAs are even more burned out, tired and exhausted because they are short staffed and having to care for more residents and patients than normal.”

Porter told McKnight’s Senior Living that staffing shortages are not limited to nursing homes. Assisted living communities and other settings face similar challenges, particularly regarding CNAs, she said.

“Much like nursing homes, they are losing staff to retail, food service and other industries; they need to find ways to close the floodgates and attract, engage and retain staff,” she said. “As these survey results show, CNAs are committed to their residents but don’t see healthcare organizations or their leaders doing enough to provide the wages and benefits they need to live and support their families; nor do they feel they are getting the respect and appreciation they deserve — particularly after sacrificing so much throughout the pandemic.”

More than half of survey respondents cited the CNA staffing shortages as their most pressing challenge, followed by burnout / exhaustion and lack of respect from leadership.

Poor wages and benefits were cited as the primary reasons CNAs leave their jobs. Almost 84% of respondents said it would take better wages and benefits to draw them back, whereas just under half said it would take better training and opportunities for career advancement.

Asked about staffing ratios experienced on their shifts, 35% of respondents working the first, second or third shift reported caring for 15 to 20 residents, whereas 18% of those who worked one of the three shifts said they care for 25 or more residents. Of those working third shift, 34% reported caring for 15 to 20 residents, whereas 33% reported caring for 25 or more residents. 

One respondent summed up her feelings, saying, “Until society sees firsthand what CNAs do and recognizes the value we bring to patient care and experience, they will not take our jobs seriously.”

Porter said the survey results confirm and highlight the urgent need for providers to prioritize efforts to attract and retain CNAs.

“This means not only better wages and benefits, but also strong cultures of inclusion and respect,” Porter said. “What’s more, providers must offer ongoing mentoring, training, career advancement and other opportunities for CNAs.”