Worsening staff shortages at long-term facilities are contributing to Wisconsin's current hospital capacity issue, according to health care experts.
Like many sectors, the pandemic has exacerbated the workforce shortage in long-term care facilities. The shortage leads to some sites implementing an admission hold, meaning they cannot safely accept and care for patients ready to leave hospitals.
"It is very difficult. You know, we certainly want to work with our acute care partners. We want to be able to say yes, but we have to do it in a very safe and responsible manner," said David Mills, CEO for North Shore Healthcare.
North Shore healthcare operates dozens of facilities including skilled nursing homes and assisted living sites in Wisconsin. Last week, Mills said about a third of their 52 centers have some level of an admission hold tied to a staffing issue.
"I've seen some people come back, but the reality is because of the staffing challenges that we've had, there are a lot of people that are leaving and they're tired. They're oftentimes single mothers or single fathers. There's certainly work-life balance issues. It's a very stressful time," Mills said.
On top of that, North Shore Healthcare has seen a spike in sick calls over the last month as COVID spreads across the community.
"We have to be competitive with wages, we have to have the right culture where people want to grow and develop and have a career path with us," Mills said.
The American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living reported nursing homes and assisted living centers have lost more than 230,000 caregivers or nearly 15% of the workforce since the pandemic began.
The group's Wisconsin affiliate says right now out of more than 360 nursing facilities in the state, 75% cannot take new patients at one point or another.
"That means patients who are backing up in the hospitals, who are ready for discharge, cannot move through the continuum of care. And that's probably our biggest problem," said Rick Abrams, CEO of the Wisconsin Health Care Association and Wisconsin Center for Assisted Living.
Local health systems said wait times for hospital patients to long-term care facilities depend on several factors including personalized care needs, insurance, and what the facility can accept, to name a few.
Abrams explained the state has tapped health care staffing agencies, committed American Rescue Plan dollars to boost a career training program, and increased Medicaid payment rates.
Wisconsin National Guard members are training to work as certified nursing assistants to free up capacity at hospitals and allow skilled nursing facilities to open up 200 or more beds by the end of February.
Abrams said the efforts are helpful but they should not end there.
"More has to be done long term to ensure that things are healthy in the future. They are not healthy now," Abrams said.