Researchers seek solutions to impending U.S. long-term care facility staffing crisis

CHAPEL HILL National studies have shown employee turnover at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to be close to 100 percent a year nationally -- one of the highest among any occupation. The reasons aren't a surprise -- low pay, frequent hard work, back injuries from heavy lifting and the lack of status associated with such jobs.

Experts say that unless something is done, the problem will worsen in coming decades as the baby boom generation of the 1940s and 1950s ages into tomorrow's elderly population. Inadequate staffing translates into worse health and lower quality of life for nursing home residents.

"We're facing a real crisis in this area," said Dr. Thomas R. Konrad, senior fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research.

UNC researchers are working to improve the employment picture at long-term care facilities through a new and innovative program they have designed and are testing.

"These are the front-line caregivers -- the nurses' aides and people doing similar jobs who bring nursing home patients their meals, help get them to and from the bathroom, get in and out of bed and assist them with whatever therapies they have in long-term care settings," said Konrad, director of the Sheps center's Program on Primary Care and the Health Professions. "Such workers occupy the bottom of the nursing home hierarchy, and while their jobs are never going to be perfect, they are very important and certainly can be improved a lot.

"Both recruitment and retention are big problems, and we're looking primarily at what employers can do to keep good workers on the job."

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Atlantic Philanthropies support the UNC effort through a new two-year grant totaling almost a half million dollars. Konrad and Dr. Sheryl I. Zimmerman, associate professor of social work, are leading it.


Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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