Fewer facilities run by the US Bureau of Prisons experienced staffing shortages during the pandemic than nursing homes, according to a new federal report. 

Inspectors general of four federal departments, including the US Department of Health and Human Services, investigated staffing issues at federal-run and connected facilities to determine the scope of problems, likely reasons and consequences. 

What they found across the board were nursing shortages, a limited labor pool from which to hire, noncompetitive pay — especially in nursing homes — and a decrease in patient access to care. Staff also reported burnout, fear of contracting COVID, and difficulties handling the increased workload brought on by worker shortages and increased health protocols. 

Many of the findings will not surprise nursing home operators and their employees. But the juxtaposition of conditions, compared with other sectors, is intriguing.

“Maintaining an appropriate level of personnel in health care facilities is essential to providing a safe work environment for health care personnel and quality care to patients,” the report stated. “Even though the federal health care programs have incentives and strategies to attract and retain health care personnel, the programs still experienced personnel shortages throughout the pandemic. Consequently, additional action is necessary to staff normal operations and to strategically plan for future surges in personnel needed to respond to pandemics and other health care emergencies.”

The report was compiled by the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee Health Care Subgroup. That is composed of the inspectors general for the US departments of Health and Human Services, Justice, Defense, and Veterans Affairs. The federal Bureau of Prisons is part of the Justice Department. 

The Office of the Inspector General examined 50 nursing facilities that participate in Medicare or Medicaid, or both, for the report. The investigation found that 47 of those facilities – 94% – reported nursing shortages during the pandemic compared with 69% of facilities under the Bureau of Prisons. The Justice Department inspector reviewed records for 121 prisons housed within 97 facilities. 

The report also noted that 26 of the 50 nursing homes involved in the analysis reported an overall decline in the physical and mental health of residents due to staffing problems. 

“Specifically, officials stated that the nursing homes had to adjust the level of care provided to residents, including reducing or stopping restorative care and physical rehabilitation services, and sending residents who needed wound care to the hospital,” the report said. 

Other findings from the report include: 

•  Increased job requirements and quarantine protocols contributed to staffing shortages at nursing homes

•  Some nursing home workers reported being unable to work because they had to care for family members who contracted COVID-19

•  Some nursing home workers quit their jobs after contracting COVID-19

•  Providers reported losing staff to higher paying jobs in other industries.