Some Kansas nursing homes are short-staffed during pandemic; Here’s why


TOPEKA (KSNT) — Kansas long-term care facility officials said they’re struggling to hire workers, during the coronavirus pandemic.

Linda MowBray, President of the Kansas Health Care Association, works with several long-term care facilities across the state. In an interview on Monday, she told the Kansas Capitol Bureau that while nursing homes have always had a harder time finding workers, the situation got worse once the pandemic began.

“It’s hard work, it’s rewarding work, but it’s a difficult thing to ask someone to care for another person, and have a difficult time making a living wage.”

MowBray said that nursing homes are in competition with other healthcare settings, like hospitals or doctor’s offices, to fill positions for registered nurses, licensed practical nurses (LPN), and certified nurse aids (CNA), and medication aids.

This has led to longer hours for workers at some long-term care facilities, who juggle several positions as they work to provide care to residents.

“I will work the floor if I have to,” said Winona Kegin, LPN and adult care home operator, at Oak Creek Senior Living. “Our activity director is cross-trained in the kitchen. Our housekeeper is a CNA, so she also helps on the floor, so I try to have people that are cross-trained.”

Kegin has worked at Oak Creek Senior Living for 8 years, bonding with residents and staff. But, she said the pandemic has made it harder to keep people on, as they become more hesitant to return to the workplace.

“I’ve got some very devoted staff that will help work 12-14 hour days, 5 days in a row, but it has been a challenge and it does get stressful,” she said.

This comes as some businesses in the state have pointed to a labor shortage, attributing the issue to increased unemployment benefits.

The latest U.S. labor report shows a slight increase in hiring. The unemployment rate fell to 5.8% to 6.1%, showing gradual progress for some.

MowBray said the increased unemployment benefits have not been a main contributor to onboarding more workers, especially those that are single parents, who have had to stay home to care for their children.

“It’s not making the final decision for people not to come back to the workforce, but it is softening the blow for those who choose not to or can’t at this time,” she said.

MowBray said getting more people to work in long-term care facilities will take a ‘multi-faceted’ approach, highlighting that some nursing homes have expressed the need for staffing agencies to fill certain positions.

“These workers are incredible and they do so much for our seniors and we just don’t recognize them for the heroes that they are,” she said. “We’re going to need to have financial incentives. We’re going to need to have promotional incentives. We’re going to need to provide benefits for the individuals, and we’re going to have to be creative about attracting people in.”

The state is making efforts to get more people back to work, creating a re-employment plan to connect unemployed Kansans with local employers.

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