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Nursing homes that had severe COVID-19 outbreaks experienced significant staffing losses during and after the outbreaks. Emergency staffing plans need to be developed for future outbreaks including potentially the use of temporary nurse “strike teams” to fill staffing gaps, new research suggests.

The study, titled “Staffing Patterns in U.S. Nursing Homes During COVID-19 Outbreaks,” appeared in the July 22 issue of the JAMA Health Forum.

Researchers from the Bloomberg School of Health at Johns Hopkins University studied staffing absences at departures among U.S. nursing homes that experienced severe COVID-19 outbreaks between June 14, 2020, and Jan. 1, 2021. The study used daily payroll data from the facilities to measure staffing, absences, departures, and the use of overtime and contract staff.

The 2,967 nursing homes that were studied saw a significant drop in staffing levels during and after severe outbreaks due to elevated absences and staff departures. The staffing losses were greatest among CNAs, primarily due primarily to a “disproportionate lack of hiring to fill losses created by absences and departures.”

“In light of the considerable challenges documented in this cohort study, preparations for future infectious disease outbreaks should include emergency staffing plans for nursing homes to ensure resident safety, such as centralized “strike teams” that can be temporarily deployed,” the authors wrote. “These teams can be organized at the state or federal level and could provide supplemental staffing to facilities experiencing severe outbreaks.”

Researchers suggested policymakers consider funding for nurse “strike teams” at the state and federal level to help nursing homes with emergency staffing during severe outbreaks. They also said policymakers should consider a broad investment in nursing home workers through better pay and benefits, such as potentially increasing Medicaid reimbursements to facilities.