A majority of providers are struggling to cover shifts and recruit new workers during the ongoing health crisis, according to a new industry audit.

A mid-November survey among LeadingAge providers found that workforce shortages, stress and safety concerns are among the top five staffing challenges operators are facing during the public health crisis.

Specifically, 73% of providers said they are having troubles finding enough staff to cover shifts, 71% are struggling with recruiting new workers, and 65% have a hard time finding others to cover sick workers. Sixty-seven percent of providers also reported stress, and fear among workers is a major concern. Slightly more than half (52%) said protecting the health and safety of employees was a top challenge. 

Workforce issues were among the major points of discussion for the Coronavirus Commission on Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes, according to member Terry Fulmer, Ph.D., RN, president of The John A. Hartford Foundation. 

“First and foremost during this pandemic, our responsibility as a society is to keep the workforce safe, free of infection, and that was something that was discussed quite extensively,” Fulmer said during a virtual session at LeadingAge’s annual Meeting & Expo on Tuesday.

“At the end of the day, if your workforce is not healthy — and I mean that both physically and emotionally — they’re not going to be able to bring their best self to the work and to the residents every day.” 

The commission released a 186-page report in mid-September that featured a total of 27 recommendations and more than 100 action steps for providers and public health officials responding to COVID-19. Many of the recommendations centered around testing, personal protective equipment, cohorting, visitation and workforce strategies.

Fellow commission member and LeadingAge California President and CEO Jeannee Parker Martin added that operators have an “opportunity now to really reimagine the workforce that are in nursing homes, but also that are in senior living and congregate settings.” 

Fulmer also stressed the need for understanding the long-term care workforce, learning how many nursing homes staff may work and the importance of giving them support.  

“We’ve heard many people talk about what it feels like to be a certified nursing assistant and to feel like you’re minimally important to an organization when you are, in fact, the person who is doing the most work with individuals,” Fulmer said. “The workforce is the only group that can do that, along with technology.”

The LeadingAge survey also found that 63% of providers have enough financial support to cover COVID-19 expenses for only one to five months. Just more than half of the respondents (52%) had a current diagnosed or suspect COVID-19 case among residents/clients.