Nursing homes facing staffing shortages amid pandemic

Nursing homes, group homes and other care facilities across Minnesota are facing a ‘critical shortage’ of workers.

The state is launching an ‘urgent hiring initiative’ to help fill the emergency need.

It is a joint effort between the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Department of Health, Department of Employment and Economic Development and other state agencies.

"Pre-COVID, we have had staffing shortages in care settings across Minnesota, but what we’re experiencing right now is really something different," said Daniel Pollock, assistant commissioner of continuing care for older adults in the Minnesota Department of Human Services. "As staff test positive for COVID-19, they’re having to quarantine, which leaves care facilities in a precarious position."

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Pollock said the staffing crisis is reaching a new level of severity, as Minnesota deals with surging cases of COVID-19.

"In the worst-case scenario, in a handful of cases, we’ve had to have National Guard members come to the facility to really be the backup. That’s got to be our last resort," Pollock said. "What we are trying to do with this program is to make sure we never get to the point where we have to evacuate anyone."

Pollock said the state hopes to create a pool of 500 available workers who can deploy for at least 14 days at a time.

"It is definitely something that almost anybody could step forward to do. We’ll make sure you have training, personal protective equipment, access to testing, so we’re going to make sure we’re taking care of these workers," Pollock said. "And what we’re doing with this is we’re offering people much higher than normal wages."

People in entry-level health care and supportive services positions, including CNAs, can make up to $25 per hour. Licensed practical nurses can make up $35 per hour. Registered nurses can make up to $50 per hour. The program may also offer travel, lodging and per diem reimbursement, depending on the situation since help is needed throughout the state.

Pollock said the program is part of Gov. Tim Walz’s long-term care battle plan, with additional funding authorized by legislators as part of COVID-19 relief.

"It was vital for us. It helped get us through a really critical time," said Paul Gaebe, administrator and CEO of Mother of Mercy, a senior living facility in Albany, Minnesota. "Several days there, we were really in a tight staff crisis. We had the best backup plans in the world, but even the best backup plans can fail."

Mother of Mercy is one of 14 facilities across Minnesota to request state help in filling staff shortages.

"Even when we lose just one caregiver, it does impact us. We are certainly hit harder when we lose a number of staff members all of a sudden. That’s the real slippery slope with COVID. It’s not just a matter of taking the infected employee off the floor, it’s the fact that, who else did they come in contact with? And we may have to remove them off the floor as well to get tested," Gaebe said.

Heidi Granstrom, a registered nurse from Rochester, has served at four nursing homes across the state over the past few months. She is currently working at a facility in Austin, Minnesota.

"I just felt like I needed to be here," Granstrom said. "When I was at home sitting on the sidelines, not really sure and hesitant, I felt out of the game. This a way for people to actually make something positive out of this really, really difficult time."

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development said people who have been laid off from the hospitality industry, such as restaurant or hotel workers, may have skillsets that transfer to these positions.

People who apply and are added to the pool can expect steady temporary employment opportunities at least through December. Opportunities for being hired into a longer-term, permanent position in a similar role may also available.

If you would like to learn more about this opportunity, contact the staffing agency operating this program for the State of Minnesota at 1-866-633-3700.

Applications are being accepted now and can be found here.