Report finds high COVID rates in nursing home workforce and increased staffing challenges


Patrick Jones


COVID-19 cases amongst nursing home staff are increasing in Utah. According to the AARP Nursing Homes COVID-19 Dashboard released on Thursday, Utah has the fifth highest percent of new confirmed cases in nursing home staff among the fifty states at 30.2%. Higher COVID numbers are coupled with a staffing crisis with 22.1% of nursing homes facing a shortage of nurses and aides.


Image: AARP Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard


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The study, with data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), included staff and resident vaccination rates, COVID cases, staffing shortage, and personal protective equipment (PPE) supply. In Utah, about 1 staff to every 100 residents has a confirmed COVID case, which is the sixth highest ratio in the country. 

However, 67.6% of staff are fully vaccinated, which is 7% more than the national average. In residents, 84.2% are fully vaccinated, which is 2.5% more than the national average. 

According to Allie Spangler, president and CEO of the Utah Health Care Association (UHCA), visitation is still allowed indoors, if both parties are vaccinated, at many Utah nursing homes with proper precautions of screening and watching for infection control. She said however, policies and procedures around outbreak status are set by the Department of Health and CMS to prompt restrictions at certain points of infection in the facility. 

Below is a graph by the Utah Department of Health on the procedure when a staff or resident tests positive for COVID. 


Image: Utah Department of Health


Nursing homes in Utah are also facing a significant staffing shortage according to Spangler and Mindy Hill, president-elect of the Utah Assisted Living Association. This adds strain on current staff. Hill says:

“In general, health care staff are fatigued. We have fewer applicants and are short-staffed at times, putting additional stress on communities and workers.”

Spangler says the staffing drought is affecting how many residents each facility can admit due to utilization and quality care issues. This has a negative impact on the financial health of many of the facilities. 

“Staffing the facilities can be very difficult right now. If they don’t have an abundance of staff or if they are suffering from workforce shortage, they can’t admit new patients and that in turn can affect the financial situation of the facility. They have to be very cognizant of the care that they can provide and weigh on if they have enough staff to be able to bring in new residents or keep where they are at and care for the ones that they have right now.”

Spangler says nursing homes have “significantly increased” wages for nurses and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) to compete. UHCA also received a grant from the University of Utah to create videos of various caregivers to be shown at nursing schools to recruit new nurses and CNA’s into long-term care. 

Nursing homes are using a software program to keep employees happy called “Retain”, which evaluates an employee’s satisfaction through surveys at certain “trigger points” in their time with the home, like after their first week or first month. She says “Retain” includes questions like if they have all the resources needed to do their job and if they are satisfied with the work they are doing. She says early data shows the software to be effective and helping retain workers.