caregiver with resident
(Credit: Getty Images)

Quality improvements in nursing homes sought by the federal government and industry stakeholders won’t happen without first making investments to ensure the industry’s workforce is “well-prepared and supported,” an expert argued Thursday in a new edition of Health Affairs

“The basic tenets of what constitutes excellent nursing home care have been in place for decades. In many ways, we know what needs to be done to deliver excellent care. What we haven’t figured out is how to make that happen,” wrote Mary Ersek, Ph.D., RN, a senior scientist with the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Ersek is also a member of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee on the Quality of Care in Nursing Homes. In April, it released a long-awaited report that called for major workforce changes, like competitive wage boosts and minimum staffing levels. 

She argued that the day-to-day realities of the nursing home experience are rarely depicted by the media despite the amount of focus placed on the industry during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

At its best, Ersek said nursing home care is about bringing moments of joy to someone with less access to the outside world. “Despite chronically poor staffing, inadequate preparation, and dismal wages,” she said excellent resident-centered care happens every day.

“It’s about making a connection, however fleeting, with someone who is separated from family, friends, and the broader community because of frailty and immobility, physical distance, and cognitive impairment,” she wrote. “For this reason, high-quality nursing home care requires a well-prepared and supported workforce.” 

Ersek concluded that she’s cautiously optimistic that the “horrific” COVID-19 experience will compel years of change and more commitment to the workforce.