Op-ed: We must rebuild the long-term-care workforce
When the Covid-19 pandemic ripped through our state, it deepened a crisis that was already facing New York’s nursing homes. Prior to the pandemic, the state stopped investing in long-term care. This ill-advised decision made it harder for facilities to pay competitive wages, which in turn led to a hemorrhaging workforce. To make matters worse, under Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York actually cut Medicaid funding right at the beginning of the pandemic. These short-sighted policies have created a catastrophic storm for nursing homes in the last two years.
If Gov. Kathy Hochul has her way, this is all about to change. The governor’s executive budget reinvests in our health care workforce at levels not seen in decades: $10 billion in health care spending, the largest in the state’s history. It could be just the shot in the arm that long-term-care facilities need to rebuild and develop in a post-Covid era.
And just in time too. The state is facing its greatest shortage of health care workers in history, all while our population continues to age. New York nursing homes have a turnover rate of 94%, with most staff opting to work in retail in positions that have traditionally paid far less. Meanwhile, facilities across the state are holding their collective breath each week, praying they’ll have enough staff to provide care. This is particularly the case on the weekends, when ensuring adequate staffing has become next to impossible.
But the real solution goes beyond dollars and cents. Getting talented people to join this workforce will require convincing them that this is incredibly important work that can lead to a fulfilling future beyond the entry-level job. That’s why I’m encouraged to see additional initiatives proposed by Hochul that will support educational opportunities that lead to career advancement. It’s not enough to get new workers in the door; we have to keep them and develop a workforce with the experience to support New York’s growing ranks of seniors.
In order to turn the staffing crisis around, the industry and the state need to partner together and get the message out about the importance of long-term care to our communities and the increased wages and career opportunities that come with this work. Failure to do so could result in a total collapse of the industry, leaving tens of thousands of health care workers without jobs and vulnerable seniors without adequate care. Let us use the impact of Covid-19 as a lesson in why investment in long-term care must remain a priority.
By promoting and supporting long-term care in New York, we can make a strong long-term plan for tomorrow’s workforce.
Michael Balboni is executive director of the Greater New York Health Care Facilities Association.