Colorado nursing homes struggling to find workers amid pandemic

Coronavirus

DENVER (KDVR) — Across Colorado, nursing homes have become epicenters for coronavirus outbreaks, and the industry is having trouble finding the workforce necessary to meet the rising demand.

“These employees really are the frontline heroes,” said President and CEO of Colorado Health Care Association Doug Farmer. “You have the lives of other people in your hands every day and so we have to make sure we have people who are responsible and people that want to be there.”

Farmer says hiring was a challenge before this pandemic, and that challenge has only proven more difficult. 

“From the beginning of the pandemic, we saw a quick drop in the number of people that were working the profession that we had to address immediately,” Farmer said. “We have seen some that have chosen not to work in the healthcare field any longer, and that can be for a variety of reasons.”

Farmer also pointed to workers having to stay home to help their children that no longer could go to school, and other employees across the industry showing symptoms of COVID-19 and having to isolate and miss work for weeks.

Farmer says there are roughly 17,000 residents in Colorado nursing homes, calling for a workforce of 20,000 to 25,000 to meet their needs. The average age of residents is 85 years old, and a majority have preexisting conditions, according to Farmer.

“They’re working to create a home for them,” Farmer said. “At the same time they’re working to protect them and keep them safe.”

According to Colorado’s outbreak data, there are 428 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, and 111 probable deaths tied to nursing homes. It accounts for more than half of Colorado COVID-19 deaths. 

So far 1,016 nursing home workers have tested positive for COVID-19 in Colorado, with more than 600 workers probably having contracted the disease at some point, according to state data. One worker has died.

“Overall, our research shows that the current long-term care workforce is disproportionately lower-wage workers,” said Deputy Director of Medicare Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation Juliette Cubanski.

The foundation’s research breaks down who works at these facilities, finding a vast majority are women, nearly 40% are over the age of 50, and one in four workers are African-American. 

“The highly transmissible nature of this virus, combined with the congregate nature of these settings, puts the workers not just the residents but the workers themselves at elevated risk of infection,” Cubanski said.

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