Providing more financial security for U.S. nursing homes may help prevent future staffing shortages after researchers found that about one in six facilities have reported shortfalls in licensed nurses and aides during the pandemic. 

A University of Rochester-led research team found that between 16% and 18% of nursing homes reported the shortages in a May survey. The shortages were linked to multiple COVID-19 factors, such as more cases and having less available personal protective equipment on-hand. 

“Findings support the expectation that NHs with higher staffing levels before the pandemic might be less susceptible to shortages during the pandemic: Better RN staffing was related to fewer shortages in licensed nurses and nurse aides (marginally), but not to clinical staff or other staff,” investigators wrote. 

“More CNAs before the pandemic was marginally related only to fewer shortages in nurse aides,” they added. 

The investigative team also suggested that the structure of nursing home care, residents being more susceptible to the virus, and early PPE shortages “may have led to this situation.” They added that the federal government’s increased civil monetary penalties for infection control violations put more strain on providers and could prevent them from addressing staffing shortages. 

“This places great financial challenges on NHs, especially considering that most NH care is reimbursed by Medicaid at lower than operating cost. Even before the pandemic, NHs were reliant on higher margin Medicare residents to provide financial cushion to invest in staff and quality,” the researchers argued.

“Securing the financial health of NHs that allows them to address these staff shortages needs to be a priority that might help NHs ensure that fewer residents are exposed to COVID-19,” they concluded.  

Study findings were published in the October issue of The Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine.