Nursing Assistant Shortages May Be Crisis for Nursing Homes

Article excerpt

The shrinking population of nursing assistants is a "hidden time bomb" and an impending crisis that will implode the entire nursing home system in the next few decades if drastic measures aren't taken soon, says Karl Pillemer, professor of human development and family studies and co-director of the Cornell Applied Gerontology Research Institute.

"With fewer young people in relation to the growing elderly population, tighter restrictions on immigration, and skyrocketing turnover rates, some 90 percent of nursing home facilities are suffering from nursing assistant shortages," he says. Pillemer is the author of a new report, Solving the Frontline Crisis in Long-term Care: A Practical Guide to Finding and Keeping Quality Nursing Assistants (Frontline Publishers, 1996).

The crisis, Pillemer says, is caused by the inability of the nursing home industry to effectively recruit and retain these frontline, "hands-on" workers. And that inability interferes with resident care, resident quality of life, and facility efficiency and costs the industry millions of dollars a year.

"We not only have a serious shortage now, but by the early part of the next decade we will need 600,000 new nursing assistants," Pillemer says. He has analyzed surveys and conducted numerous focus and training groups to determine the root causes of the staff turnover and shortage of workers, and his publication offers many solutions.

"Many nursing assistants begin with a sense of enthusiasm, sound intrinsic motivation, a desire to help others, and a sense that they are making a meaningful contribution, yet workers get burned out, not only by stressful conditions and heavy workloads but also because of a lack of recognition and respect," he says. …