Georgia nursing homes face a severe staffing shortage

ATLANTA - At a recent new employee orientation at A.G. Rhodes nursing home in Marietta, the classroom was full, a sign of how things used to be.

The non-profit's CEO Deke Cateau says prior to the pandemic, the company's 3 long-term care facilities were staffed at "very high levels."

Cateau says finding new employees, and funding competitive salary increases to retain the staff they have, has become increasingly difficult lately.

"Nursing homes are competing with hospitals," Cateau says. "They're competing with doctors’ offices."

And, he says, their employees have come out of the pandemic asking for more flexible working hours, while their resident families want consistent staffing.

"They expect a consistent caregiver taking care of their mom or their dad each and every day," Cateau says. "That is not always possible, especially in this environment. A lot of times it does not happen."

Georgia's 357 nursing homes, home to about 4,000 residents, require a team of direct care providers, who are difficult to find, says Chris Downing, president and CEO of the Georgia Health Care Association, an industry trade group.

"COVID exacerbated that, to the tune of almost 5,000 employees, here in Georgia alone, left the industry altogether," Downing says.

He says low Medicaid reimbursement rates make it nearly impossible to attract and keep the number of employees needed to meet new federally imposed minimum staffing mandates for long-term care facilities.

"Why aren't people getting into these professions to begin with," Downing asks. "That's where the problem lies. It's not because nursing homes don't want to hire staff because they do. They can't afford it because Medicaid is not sufficient, it doesn't sufficiently fund the program."

Melanie McNeil, the Georgia long-term care ombudsman, says while some nursing homes may not be making a profit, many of the corporations who run them are.

"They wouldn't stay in the business if they weren't making money," McNeil says. "I've been the ombudsman for 14 years, and we've had the same number of nursing homes for all that time. So, they're making money somehow, or they wouldn't be in the business."