A lot of Americans were forced out of their jobs during the COVID pandemic, and when those employers finally wanted them back, many low-paid workers essentially said, “Thanks but no thanks.” You can add nursing home workers to that list. Although there weren’t massive layoffs during the pandemic, the toxic work environment that existed in our nation’s nursing homes became exponentially worse during COVID, and hundreds of thousands of these critical front-line workers have left the profession for good.According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of workers at nursing homes and residential care facilities has dropped by 407,100, since 2020, which is almost 13% of the pre-pandemic workforce. COVID, although not the root of the problem, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.Even before COVID, your typical nursing home caregiver job meant long hours of exhausting work, incredible stress, not to mention health risks, and for all that you get low pay and terrible benefits. It’s no great mystery why good people are leaving these jobs forever,” said Leah Barron, a founding partner with the Baltimore-based law firm Brown & Barron, which specializes in nursing home cases.Many of these workers saw COVID ravaging the nursing homes where they worked, and the danger of contracting the virus was too much of a risk. The COVID pandemic exposed the terrible state of infection control standards in U.S. nursing homes. Many had to improvise their own personal protective equipment (PPE), because the nursing homes failed to invest in proper infection control practices. Staff members who experienced symptoms had a choice to either go to work and risk spreading COVID to colleagues and residents or stay home without pay. Some workers were unwilling to comply with vaccine mandates. Many more simply quit because the stress, frustration, and physical and mental strain of the job was no longer worth the lousy pay.
An important job that gets little respect
When you think of the businesses in your community that are having trouble refilling positions, you might not imagine healthcare workers. However, nursing home care providers, mostly certified nursing assistants, (CNAs), are among the lowest paid in all of health care. The average salary of a CNA is just $15.35/hour, and benefits such as sick leave and vacation are rare.
Registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) represent a small portion of the nursing home workforce, and their hours are spread very thin. Most of the care at nursing homes is provide by lower-trained, lower-paid, CNAs. The CNAs might have less training and medical knowledge, but they do incredibly important work. Millions of infirm and elderly people in our nation’s nursing home depend on these workers to help them with basic life tasks every day, such as getting dressed and eating. It’s an incredibly important and difficult job, but it’s mostly a thankless one.
Even before the pandemic, the for-profit nursing home industry had prioritized profits over quality care, and that was most evident in dangerously low staffing levels. Reducing the number of workers to the bare minimum is the industry shortcut to higher profits, and it has dire consequences for residents and workers. A recent study showed that almost nowhere in the United States do nursing homes meet the industry standard for staffing. As more coworkers quit due to the systemic strain of COVID, the remaining overworked staff members are expected to pick up the slack.
As the nursing home industry’s greed forces its most important human resources out of the profession, the people paying the ultimate price are the nursing home residents. There are simply not enough hours in the day for the staff at most nursing homes to meet the needs of the people that are counting on them. The result is misery, injury, and death for the nursing home residents. Many workers quit because they could no longer bear this no-win situation, where they are forced to watch people suffer due to corporate greed.
What to do when you suspect nursing home abuse?
When you suspect a nursing home is responsible for the abuse or neglect of a loved one, it can be difficult to get a straight answer. When nursing homes are at fault, they will do everything in their power to protect their business, making it nearly impossible for families to find out what happened.
A loved one may be placed in a nursing home for a number reasons, such as after a surgery or major injury, a health condition, or the inability to care for themselves at home. Families trust nursing homes to properly care for their loved ones and meet their health and safety needs. However, sometimes that trust is misplaced and the home is not providing the proper standard of care you expect, or your loved one deserves. For help or information, call (410) 698-1717.