The many sad faces of nursing home closings | news


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“I was very sad,” said Susan Hovey, a geriatric researcher at the University of Illinois Chicago, upon hearing announcements of the closure of St. Joseph’s Home of Springfield and Heritage Health of Springfield.

Hovey, who also serves as the assistant director of the Department of Biobehavioral Nursing Science, said she took students to observe and learn from the staff at Heritage Health, a for-profit long-term care facility. She was also very familiar with St. Joseph’s Home, a charitable nursing home, as her mother lived there until her death.

In October announcements of the two nursing home closings, staffing issues were cited as one of the main reasons. Heritage stated that staff shortages caused an “explosion in labor costs” that, according to several reports, made it impossible to keep their doors open. St. Joseph’s pointed to “a serious shortage of staff not just at St. Joseph, but in the health sector as a whole”.

SEIU Healthcare’s vice president and director of the nursing home division, Shabatayah Andrich, said the workforce issues in the nursing home industry are not new. The union represents 12,000 nursing home workers across the Midwest.

“Much of what the industry has been doing wrong for many years has come to a head during the pandemic,” said Andrich. Laws like the Nursing Home Care Act, signed by Governor Pat Quinn in 2010, proved hollow.

Andrich said about the pandemic, members commented that “it’s no longer just a tough job, it’s become a dangerous job too.”

High workload resulting in injury and staff turnover in nursing homes were an issue long before the pandemic. According to a study published in March 2021 in Health matters, a health policy journal, the average annual turnover rate of nursing home staff in Illinois was between 98% and 118% for 2017-2018.

Francine Rico, a certified nursing assistant in Chicago for over 23 years and a member of the union’s board of directors, said working at the height of the pandemic was “scary and frustrating” as the number of residents and employees dying from COVID-19 increased. Rico said that without the transparency and support from the administrators, the staff would have taken it upon themselves to “protect patients from harm and take care of each other” as best they could. Her only focus was “staying alive,” she said.

Union members organized actions to pressure owners to provide personal protective equipment and wage increases promised under the American Rescue Plan Act, Rico said.

Hovey said there are many costs associated with running a nursing home that administrators need to budget for, “and unfortunately most of the money can be made by downgrading or cutting the money on staff.”

Hovey is studying human resource issues at long-term facilities as part of a research collaboration between scientists from central Illinois called the Gero Group. You are in the process of drafting a digestive legislative proposal to be submitted to lawmakers in Washington, DC

“The federal government has to start looking into this,” she said. “The system is broken and there has to be a way to fix it.”

Matt Pickering, executive director of Illinois Health Care Council, said the long-term care industry is in crisis. Heritage Health is a member of HCCI, an industry association representing for-profit nursing homes.

HCCI is in discussions with the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services to “strike the right balance between the funding needed in the system for Medicaid, but also to complement it with incentives,” Pickering said.

Andrich from SEIU Healthcare said money isn’t the only problem. “The state has poured money into this problem for the past decade, and we haven’t seen any improvement in staffing or quality outcomes in these homes.” He said the way nursing homes work and make their money is not transparent, and unless there is some insight into their finances, it couldn’t be conclusively said that more money would solve the problem.

Part of the challenge of keeping employees, he said, is the low salary, with starting hourly rates for certified nursing assistants of around $ 16, “but it’s also disrespect – just the culture of treating mostly women as if they were would be dispensable. ”

When Illinois Times When Rico asked what motivates her to stay at CNA, she said “Passion”.

I think my calling was to take care of people, ”she said. She said she is committed to providing the best possible care to residents who are spending the last days of their lives in a nursing home.

Nursing advocates and researchers expressed concern about the impact of staff shortages on patients. Hovey said Heritage Health and St. Joseph’s patients face a traumatic event in their displacement – “the loss of their home, relationships, and the bond and trust they have developed with their caregivers,” she said.

For patients with Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia, “relocation and placement in an unfamiliar setting with unfamiliar people will result in decline.”

The closings also affect families and carers who have to find alternative forms of housing for their loved ones by December. Hovey said it was difficult because there are limited facilities on site, especially those that take Medicaid patients. These facilities are usually full and most likely people will have to “wait for a bed”.

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