Georgia nursing homes are doing everything they can to recruit and hire a skilled workforce. As the owner of Health Management, which operates four nursing homes in Houston and Bibb counties, I am all too familiar with the challenges and complexities that come with recruiting and hiring staff. In the last three years, the demand for our services has far outpaced the supply of qualified workers we need.
In many rural areas, there are simply no workers with the needed skills. In more populated areas, nursing homes are competing not only with each other but also with hospitals and doctors’ offices. The aftermath of the pandemic compounded the problem, as many dedicated nurses left the profession and did not return.
To combat this, nearly all long-term care facilities are taking extraordinary measures to recruit and retain staff. At Health Management, we have raised salaries more than once, provided full healthcare benefits, including dental and vision, and even included free meals and flexible schedules. Despite these efforts, positions are still unfilled.
This isn’t a failure to recruit. The ongoing nursing shortage in Georgia has left us all grasping for the limited pool of available and qualified professionals, but there are not enough to go around. Facilities have been forced to rely on agency staffing, but their flexibility of work schedules does not align with the continuous care model that our residents require and deserve.
This problem exists across the country and begs for a solution, but the solution on the table from the Biden administration and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is to implement a blanket minimum staffing mandate for long-term care facilities. This approach would punish nursing homes that are unable to meet arbitrary requirements for staffing levels.
This one-size-fits-all won’t work. Each of our homes is unique, with its own dynamics and resident requirements. Take two of the homes in our network, for example. One of them already exceeds the mandate’s proposed staffing ratio, while another might be forced to close if it were implemented due to its distinct circumstances and the financial strain that it would impose.
Considering these challenges, a blanket mandate is not the solution that we need and would only cause further strain. Instead, lawmakers should focus their efforts on collaborative strategies that address the unique dynamics of each nursing home and its surrounding community. This could involve incentivizing healthcare workers to move to rural or underserved areas, developing partnerships with educational institutions and offering specialized training programs that cater to the needs of the long-term care profession and the vulnerable individuals served in our setting.
I am grateful to be a part of this vital aspect of our healthcare system. It is rewarding to support and provide care for our nation’s seniors in their golden years, and I know our staff would say the same. A federal minimum staffing mandate won’t make new workers appear; it’ll simply decrease access at a time when more and more Americans will need care. I hope U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock will support Georgia’s long-term care sector and take charge on solutions. Let’s work together to create policies that respect the diverse needs of our residents, our staff and our communities to ensure that we can continue to provide quality care for years to come.
Debbie Meade is the Chief Executive Officer of Health Management, which owns four long-term care facilities in Houston County and Bibb counties.