Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to show that the highest staff vaccination rate for nursing homes in the Wausau area is represented by North Central Health Care, rather than Rennes Health and Rehab. Wausau Pilot & Review regrets the error.
By Shereen Siewert
Data from AARP show that nearly 53 percent of nursing homes in Wisconsin are reporting a shortage of nurses or aides, with staff and resident vaccination rates fluctuating widely in the Wausau area.
Nationwide, nearly a third of the country’s roughly 15,000 nursing homes are reporting such shortages, the worst since the government began keeping such records related to COVID-19.
The numbers were compiled during the latest four-week reporting period for AARP’s ongoing monthly analysis of federal nursing home data, which ran from mid-September to mid-October. At the same time, COVID-19 nursing home infections were less than a sixth of what they were last winter.
Low staffing levels in nursing homes, particularly among registered nurses, are associated with worse outcomes for residents, including more COVID-19 cases, deaths and a higher likelihood of an outbreak. The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected residents and staff in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, accounting for 6% of all cases and 38% of all COVID-19 deaths nationwide. In response, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended that LTCFs have the highest priority when it comes to vaccinations.
“Even on (a nursing home’s) best day, if you’re fully staffed, things can still go wrong,” Lori Porter, cofounder and CEO of the National Association of Health Care Assistants, told AARP. “But things will definitely go wrong if you’re staffed at a third of what you need.”
Last winter, while COVID-19 was infecting more than 200,000 residents and staff and killing 20,000 in just one month — the number of facilities nationwide reporting staffing shortages sat just below 30 percent.
AARP’s analysis of data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services doesn’t say what’s causing the staffing shortages. But likely factors include the recent rise of COVID-19 cases in nursing homes due to the delta variant and increased worker burnout, the AARP report found.
Staff vaccination rates up
Staff vaccination rates exceeded 90 percent in California, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island – but in Wisconsin, the rate is at 69.2 percent, according to the AARP data, below the industry benchmark of vaccinating 75 percent of their workforce.
According to Medicare’s figures, staff vaccination rates vary widely in the Wausau area.
As of Nov. 28, Medicare is reporting Pride TLC as having the lowest staff vaccination rate in the Wausau area, at 26.8 percent. North Central Health Care had the highest staffing vaccination rate at 78.2 percent, followed closely by Wausau Manor at 78 percent. The state average is 72.1 percent, slightly below the 75.9 percent national average. The published figures do not reflect retirement facilities or others that are not Medicare-certified. See data for all Wausau metro facilities below.
“The percentages of people unvaccinated may not seem huge,” said AARP’s Susan Reinhard, coauthor of the analysis and senior vice president and director of the AARP Public Policy Institute.“ But when you turn them into whole figures — half a million workers — that’s a lot of unprotected people.”
The analysis, conducted by the AARP Public Policy Institute and the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University in Ohio, draws primarily on data acquired from the Nursing Home COVID-19 Public File by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Most nursing homes are federally certified and required to submit data to the government each week.