Indiana nursing homes lost 9,000 workers during pandemic

More than 11% of the total workforce have left nursing homes since COVID struck, which are desperate for staff to care for an increasing number of patients.

Updated: December 25, 2021 - 11:14pm

More than 9,000 health care workers in Indiana – more than 11% of the total workforce – have left the long-term care industry since the start of the pandemic, leaving nursing homes desperate for staff to care for an increasing number of patients.

Nick Goodwin, head of government affairs for the Indiana Health Care Association, which represents 85% of all nursing homes, assisted living and independent care facilities in the state, said many nursing homes are raising employee pay and bonuses in an attempt to keep good workers and retain new ones.

“Our providers have increased wages up to $17-$20 an hour,” he said, comparing that to the rate of $8.50 an hour that was typical just a few years ago.

A look at numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a steady decline in long-term care workers in Indiana starting in March 2020, the first month of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In that month, there were 79,564 health-care workers working in long-term care facilities in the state, a drop from 79,910 the month before.

By June 2020, the number had dropped to less than 76,000, and by September 2020 to less than 74,000. In January 2021, it had dropped to less than 73,000, and in June, the most recent month for which numbers are available, it had fallen to 70,887.

By comparison, in 2018 and 2019, the number of long-term care employees in the state was more than 80,000.

At the same time as people are leaving the field, nursing homes are receiving many COVID-19 patients who are being transferred from hospitals to complete their recovery, Goodwin said.

“We are seeing a lot of individuals who are very sick, and we’re caring for them,” he said.

Goodwin testified at a public hearing last month on a draft of House Bill 1001, which would strengthen exemptions to employer vaccine mandates. He told lawmakers the association wasn't opposing the draft bill as nursing homes, more than anything else, need to retain workers.

The Indiana Health Care Association is working with legislators to add a provision to the bill that would allow continued expedited licensing in the state for nurses, doctors and other health-care workers who live out of state or are retired or recent graduates.

Gov. Eric Holcomb issued an executive order in 2020 to allow expedited licensing, but as this order was issued under the public health emergency, it would expire when the health emergency is ended if it's not written into law.

The expedited licensing has primarily been used by out-of-state professionals, often those who are living just across state lines in one of the states that border Indiana.

There are now about 9,500 professionals on that registry holding the temporary licenses, Goodwin said. About 7,100 of them are out-of-state workers.

The Indiana Health Care Association represents about 480 nursing homes, assisted living facilities and independent living facilities in the state – about 85% of the total.

Together, those facilities care for about 35,000 people.

In October, the association announced the results of a poll of 295 of its members, which showed 54% are using staffing agencies to bring in workers to cover shifts and 99% are scheduling employees to work overtime and/or double shifts in order to care for patients.

Close to 32% of the facilities said they are limiting admissions because they don’t have enough staff to care for more patients.

About 80% cited a lack of applicants as the primary cause of worker shortages.

Just the News Spotlight