Nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the nation have lost more than 250,000 employees since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, according to a report released this week.

Long-term care facilities continue to suffer the worst labor crisis and job losses than any other health care sector. A total 220,000 U.S. nursing home jobs were lost during the pandemic, down to 1.36 million from 1.58 million in March 2020 — a decline of 14%, according to a report released Wednesday from the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living.

Employment opportunities at assisted living communities nationwide have declined by at least 38,000 since the pandemic began, down to about 427,000 jobs from 465,000.

“As many caregivers are getting burned out by the pandemic, workers are leaving the field for jobs in other health care settings or other industries altogether,” AHCA/NCAL President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Parkinson said in a statement about the workforce challenges. “Chronic Medicaid underfunding, combined with the billions of dollars providers have spent to fight the pandemic, have left long-term care providers struggling to compete for qualified staff. We desperately need the help of policymakers to attract and retain more caregivers, so that our nation’s most vulnerable have access to the long-term care they need.”

About 86% of nursing homes and 77% of assisted living providers said their workforce situation deteriorated this summer, with 99% of nursing homes and 96% of assisted living facilities facing a staffing shortage, according to a survey with thousands of providers conducted by the AHCA/NCAL earlier this fall.

Roughly 58% of nursing homes are limiting new admissions due to shortages, according to the AHCA/NCAL, which represents more than 14,000 nursing homes and adult-care facilities.

More than 7 out of 10 nursing homes and assisted living communities surveyed by the association this fall cited a lack of qualified candidates and unemployment benefits as the biggest obstacles in hiring new staff.

Hospitals, physicians’ offices, outpatient care centers and other health care facilities have reached or surpassed pre-pandemic staffing levels, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data from October.

Outpatient care centers gained roughly 57,000 jobs and 70,000 jobs in physicians’ offices, according to the Labor Bureau.

“Too many facilities are struggling to hire and retain staff that are needed to serve millions of vulnerable residents,” Parkinson said.

About 78% of nursing homes and 61% of assisted living communities responded in the recent survey that concerned workforce challenges might force them to close.

The association continues to pressure federal officials and Congress to take action to address the staffing shortages and ease the burden on adult-care facilities nationwide.

“Lawmakers across the country must prioritize long term care and that begins with providing resources to address workforce challenges,” Parkinson said in a statement about the staffing shortages in late September. “When facilities have the means to offer competitive wages and training programs, workers will follow. We have laid out key proposals in our Care for Our Seniors Act, which will allow us to boost our workforce, but without the help from Congress and state legislators, this will not be possible.”

Reporter Natasha Vaughn-Holdridge contributed to this story.

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