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Nursing homes hit hard hit as healthcare employment declines

Leaders of healthcare organizations need to increase wages and improve working conditions of care staff.

A health care worker. - © AFP
A health care worker. - © AFP

In recent years, nursing homes have been adversely affected by declines in employment growth, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. The decline in employment has been acute in the U.S., at a rate more than triple that of hospitals or physician offices.

University of Michigan researchers have been studying these socioeconomic trends. The results indicate that employment at nursing homes is 10.5 percent below pre-pandemic levels compared to 3.3 percent for hospitals and 1.6 percent for physician offices, demonstrating a contrasting pattern in health service employment patterns.

Overall, health care employment declined less rapidly than non-healthcare employment in 2020; however, the health sector recovered less quickly in 2022.

Not only does this present a reduction in the numbers of personnel available it also points towards some potential concerns with the quality of new hires, especially as institutions are forced to attempt skill-mix policies in order to make up the shortfall (including labour substitution strategies).

The data came from a census of employment and wages that covers 95 percent of jobs in the U.S. The study seeks to fill a void in research by offering more recent data than typically available to evaluate the broad health care workforce.

It is hoped the study will help inform policy change, including a federal proposal targeting staffing levels at skilled nursing facilities. This fits, in terms of the specific area in the spotlight, with Biden’s proposed nursing home staffing standards which aim to boost staffing in nursing homes by setting national mandatory minimum nurse staffing levels.

These declines in employment levels are multifaceted in nature. Hence, improving employment rates will take time to determine and for solutions to be proposed. This is because healthcare workers face various struggles such as burnout, a lack of available childcare and modest wage levels.

Consequently, leaders of healthcare organizations need to develop different policies to address these issues,  including increasing wages and improving working conditions for long-term care workers to address the short-term employment shortage while also focusing on long-term retention.

One of the suggested policy moves is where the U.S. government should consider providing further financial support and make it easier for individuals to enter careers in nursing homes or other healthcare sectors.

The research appears in the JAMA. The title is “Changes in Employment in the US Health Care Workforce, 2016-2022.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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