Samaritan calls on National Guard

Samaritan Keep Home, 133 Pratt St. in Watertown. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — Impacted by the national shortage of health care workers, and having lost a total of 24 long-term care employees in the wake of vaccination mandates, Samaritan Health has been thinking about how its facilities might be able to take advantage of an opportunity to receive help from the National Guard.

Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul in November announced that the state was prepared to deploy National Guard members to New York nursing homes to help combat staffing shortages,

At the beginning of December, the New York National Guard deployed 120 Army medics and Air Force medical technicians to 12 nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the state to ease staffing shortages, ordered by Gov. Hochul and announced Dec. 1.

On Friday, Samaritan requested assistance in the form of licensed practical nurses and certified nursing assistants for to help care for residents as it accepts more applications after a period of declining residency rates.

“We submitted our request to our Jefferson County representative (the director of fire and emergency services) and then they put in a request,” said Leslie M. DiStefano, director of communication and public relations for Samaritan. “We received confirmation on Monday that they had submitted a NY Response Request for our request for LPNs and CNAs to assist us. That was as of Monday and we have not heard from NY Respond or the National Guard at this point.”

Samaritan did not specify the amount of either LPNs or CNAs it was seeking in its request as it was under the assumption that once the National Guard or the NY Responds reached out, it would then be able to provide specific numbers. At this point, Mrs. DiStefano said, it is more about seeing if there is any help available that the state could provide. No indication has been given as to when a response may come regarding the request for assistance.

While Samaritan, like other health systems, has done its best to hold its own and make it through the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, if there’s some help to be provided, it will gladly accept.

With LPNs in particular, Mrs. DiStefano said Samaritan is working on some robust programs, such as an LPN “Hot Job” program encouraging Samaritan staff to become LPNs through local programs, in which Samaritan would help offset the cost of tuition up to $10,000. Mrs. DiStefano noted that LPNs have been difficult to recruit and are especially needed in long-term care.

“Our occupancy levels have definitely dropped down in all of the facilities, we’re now building those back up and part of building it up is to have adequate staff,” Mrs. DiStefano said. “We need to make sure that for every resident that we welcome into the facility, we have the appropriate staffing to care for them.”

Samaritan is currently promoting admissions into its facilities and programs, including for short-term rehabilitation services, something it hasn’t been able to do in quite a few months due to COVID-19 cases and staffing.

As of Dec. 16, Samaritan Keep Home was at a daily census of 74.3% total capacity. In total, it has 272 beds for residents. Summit Village Skilled Nursing was at 87% with a max capacity of 168 residents. Assisted Living at Summit Village was at 90% with a max capacity of 120 residents, according to Mrs. DiStefano.

“We run our own CNA program, and there’s another CNA program starting in January, so we’re constantly doing these things, but it’s all about getting more staff and retaining those staff members to care for those residents,” Mrs. DiStefano said. “If there’s some short-term help from the state, obviously we’d like to take advantage of that. At this point, we’re looking for LPNs at Summit Village and CNAs at both facilities.”

Mrs. DiStefano said Samaritan is pleased that the state is trying to help facilities, and that while it was able to work through staffing shortages because occupancy has been lower, any help that it can get is appreciated. Samaritan is also appreciative of the staff it has retained, working around the clock to care for residents.

“A big kudos to all the staff working in long-term care,” Mrs. DiStefano said. “The holidays are obviously a really stressful time, and they’re doing more and still trying to bring joy and merriment to the residents.”

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