Insiders say Florida’s long-term care industry is in crisis

Insiders say Florida’s long-term care industry is in crisis

Nearly two years after the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, which wreaked havoc on the sick, the elderly and the frail, the industry on which he depends to care for these individuals is in complete crisis, industry leaders say.

Costs have gone up dramatically but revenues are down and it’s nearly impossible to get new employees according to Kristen Knapp, a spokeswoman for the Florida Health Care Association, the state’s leading association for nursing homes.

COVID concerns, childcare issues, low wages and retirement continue to drive employees out of the industry.

Luke Neumann helps operate 14 nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Florida for Palm Garden Healthcare.

When asked about the current state of the industry, “I am very concerned.”

In his own facilities the staff shortage is around 10% in each facility which has historical implications for the company.

“Yes, we had to limit admissions,” he added.

Knapp said that every member of her association, at some point, has had to consider limiting admissions.

“I haven’t seen it in about 14 years, and I’ve never seen it this bad before,” Knapp said.

The staffing crisis has left long-term care centers across the state turning to temporary staffing agencies to fill in the blanks because the federal government requires certain ratios of residents to staff to keep working and accept residents.

However, temporary staffing in long-term care is not ideal because residents of long-term care often need consistency and familiarity with staff. Temporary staffing is also a massive expense for utilities. Knapp explained that agency workers can earn up to double or even triple their hourly wages with an agency versus if they work at the same facility.

“It’s not sustainable,” Knapp said. “You have some employees leave the facilities and go to work for an agency who get paid more than the agency. Then they are sent back to a facility, so that doesn’t bode well for employee morale,” Knapp said.

The surge in hiring costs has raised questions for some in the industry about pricing or taking profits from the elderly.

Long-term care is a service, not a product, so there are no laws on the books that prevent recruitment agencies from charging you what they want.

“There has to be some kind of regulatory committee. Someone should step in and say you benefit from the appearance of our dear elders,” said Newman, whose company also has to use recruitment agencies to fill some vacancies.

In Tallahassee recently, Tracy Green of Southern Healthcare Management, which operates 29 long-term care facilities in Florida, testified before a health committee and explained how her group’s temporary staffing costs increased from $100,000 per month in 2019 to more than $2 million per month this year.

“We’re not alone,” Green said. “I love this industry but I’m really scared of what the future holds.”

Gulf Coast Healthcare, which has 28 facilities across Florida, Georgia and Mississippi, recently filed for bankruptcy citing “significant financial challenges” caused by the pandemic.

At Palm Garden, like other facilities, the company has increased workers’ wages and is now offering payment for education and training for workers to become certified nursing assistants, and LPN executives.

But for an industry that gets its salaries from the government, the question remains how long it can continue to operate without the government stepping in to save it.

The future of long-term care in Florida and across the country is at stake. “It can’t go on like it is now,” Newman said.

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