Long-term care operators around the country have dealt with a lack of qualified workers for some time now, and leaders in one Midwestern state say it’s escalated to a full-blown crisis.
Nearly 20% of caregiver positions in Wisconsin are currently unfilled, as compared to about 14.5% just two years ago, according to a report released this week by a consortium of health care trade groups — including the Wisconsin Health Care Association, the Wisconsin Assisted Living Association, and LeadingAge Wisconsin.
In addition, open positions in the field receive no applications more than half of the time, the study found.
While skilled nursing providers and other long-term care companies frequently tout the importance of creating a culture that inspires workers to apply and stay, the Wisconsin study revealed it’s all about the ability for caregivers to earn a steady living.
“Providers reported a median hourly wage of $10.75 for direct care workers, compared to $12 per hour for local, non-health care employers seeking unskilled, entry-level workers,” the report noted.
A third of respondents said their home markets had starting wages of at least $13 for non-health care jobs, while statewide unemployment sits at a record low 3.1%. It’s a recipe for disaster for providers in America’s Dairyland, where 53% of licensed practical nurses (LPNs) are over the age of 50, and a third of registered nurses (RNs) will leave the industry within the next four years.
The results quantify the pain that operators in Wisconsin and elsewhere have already felt deeply. In that state, 84% use overtime and double shifts to help fill caregiving gaps, while a quarter had limited admissions — and a third said they had at least 10 employees who relied on the state’s Medicaid program for health insurance.
A full three-quarters of providers said they do not offer health insurance for part-timers in an attempt to save money, up from just half two years ago.
If the numbers are grim now, they’re only going to get worse if long-term care companies can’t find a way to attract more employees. By 2030, Wisconsin will have more than 1.5 million residents aged 65 and older, requiring a 26.4% increase in the need for personal care workers in the state, the research determined.
That estimate is conservative compared to a recent study from the national LeadingAge organization, which projected that the nation will need 73% more RNs and 70% more LPNs by 2030.
The Wisconsin report included the opinions of 756 providers across the state, with skilled nursing facilities representing 29% of the total; the remaining 71% were assisted living operators, according to LeadingAge Wisconsin president and CEO John Sauer.
Written by Alex Spanko