Retention study might aid nursing home worker shortage

ITHACA, N.Y. -- For years, news stories have warned that the country's long-term care system is in crisis, partly because of an unprecedented shortage of nursing home workers. Cornell University researchers believe they have a remedy.

Aided by a $500,000, two-year grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Atlantic Philanthropies, the researchers will assess whether specially trained "retention specialists" can reduce the high rate of turnover of these frontline workers. Also known as "nursing aides," certified nursing assistants (CNAs) are the lowest-paid hospital and nursing home workers, providing basic rather than direct medical care. The retention specialists will develop innovative programs for frontline workers, help them deal with work stress and prevent job dissatisfaction and burnout.

Karl Pillemer, professor of human development at Cornell and director of the Cornell Gerontology Research Institute, and Rhoda Meador, project director, are heading up a study of 32 nursing homes in New York and Connecticut, comparing those that will have the new model program with those that do not.

"The rapid growth in the elderly population combined with a declining pool of workers has created a frontline-worker shortage of drastic proportions. This labor shortage is exacerbated by the fact that wages and benefits for CNAs remain comparatively low and limited," Pillemer says

"CNA turnover- -- estimated to average between 50 to 100 percent a year -- not only negatively affects the quality of life of millions of nursing home residents and incurs astronomical expenses but also exacerbates the staff shortage. It's a self-perpetuating problem: Short staffing leads to CNA burnout and frustration, which in turn lead to even higher turnover," says Pillemer. "We desperately need creative new employee development and retention programs that truly work and are cost effective." To test whether retention specialists are the answer, the researchers will

Contact: Susan S. Lang
Cornell University News Service

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