CHICAGO (WLS) -- As we mark two years since the first COVID-19 case was reported in the US, those who care for people in long-term care facilities are navigating some significant challenges. Our latest data investigation reveals staffing shortages across Illinois and a call to increase support for those doing this critical and difficult work.
The impact of COVID-19 on people who live in long-term care facilities and those who care for them has been immense, peaking in May of 2020 when more than 62% percent of all COVID-19 deaths were people who lived in long-term care facilities. In time, a targeted vaccine rollout helped curb the cases, but to date, 2% of cases and still 27% of deaths statewide are linked to long-term care facilities. Now, new data shows a looming problem: staffing shortages across the state.
Data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services analyzed by the I-Team reveals for the 703 facilities reporting data in Illinois, 150 report a shortage of nursing staff, or 21% statewide.
"This is a hard job. It's dangerous, especially in this COVID situation. And, also it's low paid and there are other attractive jobs," said Dr. Naoko Muramatsu, Professor, UIC School of Public Health. "They have worked so hard in this pandemic, and, you know, they are tired, they are burnt out."
In Cook County, of the more than 200 facilities measured, 17% reported a nursing shortage. Of the 116 facilities in the collar counties, 20 report staff shortages; also 17%.
Last fall, the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, an industry group that represents more than 14,000 nursing homes and long term care facilities nationwide, released findings that the staffing situation had gotten worse during the pandemic. They found that 58% of nursing homes were limiting new admissions due to staffing shortages and 78% of nursing homes they surveyed are concerned workforce challenges might force them to close.
Experts tell the I-Team being short-staffed can be a matter of life and death.
"We need to keep these people alive and really supported. And so that is not sustainable," Dr. Muramatsu said. "It is important to have a really good infrastructure. So that so that they can be supported."
Experts say better pay and career benefits for the industry will help decrease the shortages, as well employers and organization owners working together to find ways to support nursing staff across the country.