A nurse sits with a senior
Credit: Ariel Skelley/Getty Images Plus

Skilled nursing operators are finally making workforce gains in recent months, but they’re still experiencing slower recovery when compared to the assisted living sector. Experts believe skilled nursing will continue to struggle, despite offering competitive wages, due to a shrinking labor pool. 

“Staffing has always been an issue for the senior housing and skilled nursing sectors,” Omar Zahraoui, senior data analyst for the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care, wrote in an analysis Thursday. 

“Now, however, staffing challenges have been exacerbated by a shrinking labor force and continue to be a major area of concern, both for the ongoing recovery and for the sectors’ future capacity to compete in the healthcare industry,” Zahraoui observed. 

Federal data shows that employees at SNFs increased by 5,400 jobs between March and May. That comes after SNF jobs dropped by 238,500, or 15%, from March 2020 to March 2022. Despite the recent increases, positions in the sector are still about 14.7% below pre-pandemic levels. 

Jobs across continuing care retirement communities and assisted living facilities also dropped significantly from March 2020 to January 2022 — with a decline of 70,900 jobs (13.9%) for CCRCs and 34,900 jobs (7.5%) for ALFs. 

Total employment at CCRCs and ALFs has increased since January 2022 by 3,600 and 7,700 jobs, respectively. 

“The relatively fast recovery across these healthcare industries suggests that: These sectors have been successful in attracting and retaining workers during the pandemic, some of whom may have been part of the senior housing and skilled nursing workforce prior to the pandemic, and demand has been relatively strong compared with skilled nursing and senior housing,” Ozahraoui wrote. 

He added that factors like the size and growth of the labor force and competitiveness will be key factors that influence workforce recovery for senior housing and skilled nursing. 

“The relationship between labor and demand for the senior housing and skilled nursing sectors has never been strong and will remain critical. In some instances, if labor isn’t available, new residents can’t be admitted,” he wrote. “The pandemic has shown that both residents and staff are part of the success equation for a smooth recovery.”