Mass. nursing homes approaching capacity, association says
With 1 in 5 jobs vacant, 3,000 beds taken offline
A NEW INDUSTRY survey indicates short- and long-term skilled nursing facilities across the state are approaching capacity because of a shortage of workers.
The Massachusetts Senior Care Association said one of every five staff positions is currently vacant, a situation that has forced nursing homes to take 3,000 of the 40,000 licensed beds offline.
With a smaller number of beds available, occupancy levels have increased to an average of 93 percent statewide, the association said. More than half of the state’s nursing facilities have intermittently had to curtail new admissions.
Bill Bogdanovich, the president and CEO of Liberty Commons in Chatham, said his facility is using only 122 of its 132 licensed beds. He said a 10-bed unit for post-acute patients discharged from hospitals has been shut down for close to two years because of inadequate staff, primarily certified nursing assistants.
He said the occupancy level at his facility is currently 94 percent, which means Liberty Commons is declining more referrals than it is able to accept every month. “Those 10 beds would be occupied in a heartbeat,” he said, referring to the 10-bed unit.He said the inability of Liberty Commons to accept new patients puts pressure on hospitals trying to discharge patients to skilled nursing facilities. “It backs things up,” Bogdanovich said.
The release of the survey coincided with Beacon Hill hearings on legislation that would increase the amount of money flowing to nursing homes for salaries and boost efforts to recruit more workers into the nursing field. The legislation has backing from some Beacon Hill power brokers but has a long way to go in the legislative process.
The problem could get worse because the cost of staffing up is becoming so expensive. The association said the majority of staff are working overtime regularly and the use of temporary registered nursing staff has shot up dramatically – from 4 percent of all staff in 2019 to 19 percent in 2022. The association said nursing facilities spent nearly $300 million employing temporary nurses in 2022.
Since early 2020 and the start of the pandemic, 25 nursing facilities have closed in Massachusetts; eight of the closures occurred over the last eight months, a pace the Senior Care Association described as “an alarming rate.”
“The reality is that the staffing shortage is upsetting the entire healthcare system with a backlog of hospital patients awaiting discharge to skilled nursing facilities and family members who increasingly have limited choice or are simply unable to find access to 24-hour skilled nursing facility care within their local community,” said Tara Gregorio, president of the Senior Care Association, in a statement.