Minnesota senior care homes struggle with record staff shortages

Published 1:04 pm Friday, October 8, 2021

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ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s senior care homes are struggling with record staff shortages as people leave the industry faster than they can replaced.

There are 23,000 unfilled senior caregiver positions across Minnesota, according to a survey of 300 providers statewide conducted the Long-Term Care Imperative. That compares with 8,000 last March. And the industry lost 2,000 more workers in August. For every 100 people hired, 150 called it quits. Burnout from the pandemic was often cited.

“They’re exhausted. They are totally exhausted from working 100-hour workweeks, double shifts, in full PPE during a really hot summer,” Patti Cullen, CEO of Care Providers of Minnesota, told reporters.

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The shortage has become so acute that 70% of nursing homes in the same survey said they’ve capped admissions of new patients until they can hire more people, KARE-TV reported. That reverberates to hospitals, which have to keep fragile patients because they can’t find spaces for them in nursing facilities.

“We’d be honored to care for everyone who chooses us. We just don’t have enough staff,” said Erin Hilligan, vice president for operations at Ebenezer Homes. “When we can’t accept seniors in our buildings, we see backups in hospitals that impact the delivery of health care for everyone.”

Episcopal Homes, which hosted the news conference Thursday, has 50 unfilled positions, about 10% of its workforce. CEO Marvin Plakut said it’s been hard filling spots despite having an easily accessible facility located next to a light-rail station in an area populated by college students and immigrants.

“How much harder, extremely much harder, it is for those who are in rural communities and in distant suburbs to find staff,” Plakut said.

Industry leaders are pressing state lawmakers to tap federal COVID-19 relief dollars to help hire more staff. They’re also asking lawmakers to create special strike forces that can be deployed to nursing homes on the verge of closing.

“We believe they should be regional teams so they can be available in any part of the state where they’re needed, and they could provide enough relief that there’s actually some respite for the exhausted workers,” said Gayle Kvenvold, CEO of LeadingAge Minnesota.

The industry is also worried about an upcoming federal vaccine mandate. Some unvaccinated caregivers, especially in rural areas, have said they’ll quit rather than get their shots.

“Government officials, lawmakers, we need you,” said Marc Halpert, chief operating officer of Monarch Healthcare Management. “We need you now. We can’t keep going on like this. Our loved ones need your help.”