Bottleneck in acute care pipeline leaves patients nowhere to go

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There are currently more than 8,000 job openings in long-term care facilities across the state, said Melissa Samuel, president and CEO of the long-term care industry group based in Lansing Health Care Association of Michigan.

One in seven jobs, or about 15% of its total workforce, in the sector is currently unfilled.

“The challenge is so great (for the staff) that they don’t take admissions,” Samuel said. “The whole industry is walking a tightrope, and it’s been getting worse for two years now.”

Crain’s contacted nearly a dozen long-term care facilities in southeast Michigan and received no callbacks, and the Health Care Association received no interested parties after appealing to its members to be interviewed.

Gross said staffing is so low at many facilities that social workers can’t get anyone to answer the phone to even discuss transferring a patient.

“We have great relationships with post-acute care facilities, and we don’t blame them, but sometimes the phone rings and no one is there to answer,” Gross said.

The Health Care Association has suggested that Governor Gretchen Whitmer call in the Michigan National Guard to supplement dwindling staff at long-term care facilities to accommodate more patients.

But the state has no plans to use general members of the National Guard to provide medical support, said Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“We’ve had the National Guard on a mission since February 2020 and we haven’t ended that mission,” Hertel said. “Members of the National Guard who are qualified to do this are medical providers in their private lives. We would just be pulling providers from place to place. It’s a zero-sum game.”

There are about 11,000 members of the Michigan National Guard, but only 125 on state duty to help with COVID-19.

These National Guard members are assisting at testing and vaccination sites, Hertel said.

In December, Whitmer signed an executive order to establish the Michigan Nursing Home Workforce Stabilization Council to develop and recommend policies that can improve staffing in long-term care facilities.

Samuel commends the governor’s office for seeking to resolve this issue, but notes that these policy suggestions may come too late in the middle of omicron.

“I just think all the tools have to be ready,” Samuel said. “We’re getting closer to the point where we no longer have the staff to take care of the residents we already have. That has got to be the tipping point. Look at the numbers.”

Also on the horizon, auditors plan to release a review of deaths in nursing homes and long-term care facilities linked to the coronavirus next week, with preliminary estimates showing 42 more deaths than previously reported.

In a rare step, the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services sought to preempt it publicly by questioning how the data had been compiled.


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