Massachusetts nursing home job vacancies hold at historic highs

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The nursing home sector in Massachusetts says its worker shortage remains at "historic highs," as senior care facilities struggle to find and retain people qualified to care for the state's most vulnerable residents.

Massachusetts Senior Care Association reported Wednesday that its recent quarterly survey, taken over the summer, showed that 6,900 registered nurse, licensed practical nurse and certified nurse assistant (CNA) positions were open at nursing facilities, representing 22% of those jobs that are currently unfilled. More than 3,900 of the unfilled jobs were CNA positions.

The nursing position vacancy rate has now held at 22% statewide for three consecutive quarters, and it's affecting the industry, resident patients, and also families exploring care options for their loved ones. In the latest survey, 62% of respondent facilities reported that they have recently limited admissions due to staffing shortages. While elevated, that's down from 83% in January.

Despite the vacancies, the survey also found that 95% of respondents indicated they are confident about being able to consistently provide quality care today, compared to before the pandemic. That metric was at 78% in January 2022.

The survey, which includes data from two-thirds of the state's 360 skilled nursing facilities, also found 1,700 vacant jobs in non-nursing departments at nursing homes. Those positions include housekeeping jobs, dietary aides, cooks, activities assistants and maintenance technicians. There are 590 vacant dietary aide jobs, according to the survey, and 380 vacant activity assistant positions.

The association said one-time government appropriations have helped raise senior care facility nursing wages by nearly 20% over the last two years. The survey pinpointed a median starting wage for CNAs of $18 per hour, a median LPN wage of $30 an hour, and a median RN wage of $35 an hour.

Eighty-nine percent of nursing homes indicated they would like to participate in a CNA to LPN initiative, and the association is exploring funding options to launch such an effort. The association said 37 other states have programs to increase the skills of CNAs and help them become medication technicians.

"As the survey starkly reveals, recruiting and retaining frontline caregivers who provide quality, compassionate, 24-hour care to our elderly and vulnerable residents, remains a persistent and alarming challenge," MSCA President Tara Gregorio said. "We must increase funding for vital nursing facility services in order to make permanent urgently needed wage investments."

Funding to boost the nursing sector and provide direct aid to facilities for pandemic-related costs remains hung up on Beacon Hill, where House and Senate Democrats have been unable since the summertime to agree on a consensus economic development and jobs bill.

The sweeping bills, which differ on details and each authorize more than $4 billion in total outlays, remain before a conference committee. That group held its first meeting 100 days ago Wednesday.



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