Even before the pandemic started, many of New Jersey's long-term care facilities were short-staffed, but over the past 22 months things have gotten a lot worse.

“Other sectors of the economy have been able to come back but our industry is struggling,” said Andy Aronson, president and CEO of the Health Care Association of New Jersey.

A recent survey by the American Health Association found more than nine out of 10 long- term care facilities are not able to find as many workers as they need.

What does that mean?

Aronson said when there aren’t workers to fill jobs what many providers have to do “is simply not take in new residents, so a facility that may want to operate at a 90% occupancy level may only operate at a 70% occupancy level.”

He said if the problem continues to get worse it will eventually create “an access issue for people who need the services."

Aronson said for those currently in a facility, they are getting the care they need.

“People who are in the facility are being cared for. They shouldn’t notice there are less workers in the building. What we’re seeing though is providers can’t provide care for as many people because they don’t have the staff.”

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Why is the shortage of workers so bad?

It’s no secret that working in a nursing home or assisted living facility does not pay well and depending on the circumstances, the work itself can be quite difficult.

Aronson said nursing home and assisted living providers are trying to attract new workers but a big part of the problem is “we don’t have a reimbursement structure, a payment structure in New Jersey that allows our facilities to pay workers competitive market rates.”

He said about 70% of funding for these salaries comes from Medicaid and “those Medicaid rates in New Jersey are unfortunately not flexible enough to allow us to attract workers in a market where salaries are going up about 10% a year.”

He said efforts are underway to convince lawmakers to make badly needed changes.

“Our Medicaid payment system is so antiquated here in New Jersey. It puts us at a disadvantage even compared to other states. We need to work together with our policymakers in Trenton and talk to them about the issues,” Aronson said.

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They deserve better

Aronson stressed nursing home and assisted living care workers are essential for the Garden State.

"These workers have been heroic during the pandemic. They’ve come to work every day. They’ve taken great care of people,” Aronson said. "They have put themselves at risk by working in health care facilities during a pandemic to do a great job for people.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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