Connecticut nursing home operators say a staffing crisis is being exacerbated by competition for workers with mostly out-of-state nurse staffing agencies they’ve been forced to hired to fill their depleted ranks.
This week, the chairman of the state’s nursing home association said one staffing company, also called staffing pools, charged $84 an hour for a nurse’s aide while another posted their pay rates in hopes they could “steal” employees with promises of more money.
“The reason that it’s so bad is that we need the pools. So they are then allowed to charge whatever they want,” said Larry Santilli, the association’s chairman and the president and CEO of Athena Health Care Systems. “So this is a war.”
He was speaking during a meeting of the state’s Nursing Home Financial Advisory Committee on Wednesday.
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said attorneys in the antitrust section of his office have met with nursing home industry officials about what he called “serious concerns” raised by the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities/ Connecticut Center for Assisted Living and Leading Age Connecticut about the staffing agencies.
The two organizations sent a letter to Tong in November asking him to review what they called “anti-competitive and ongoing price-gouging practices.”
“The concerns raised in this letter regarding hiring practices are troubling, and we are aware that other state attorneys general are hearing similar reports,” Tong said in statement, adding that his office is reviewing the claims along with other state agencies.
The two Connecticut associations’ national parent organizations recently sent similar letters to the chairperson of the Federal Trade Commission requesting an investigation into examples around the country of homes, desperate for staff, having to pay “exorbitant” prices for outside staffing agencies that are financially unsustainable for the homes that rely heavily on taxpayer funds.
Some state nursing home associations, including in Connecticut, are seeking state legislative fixes to prevent the agencies from charging double to quadruple what the homes are paying their staffs, said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living.
Santilli said he recently met with Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont and other state officials to discuss the need for caps on how much outside agencies can charge.
“If we don’t do something about this, it’s impossible for us to get the staff back from the pools,” he said.
Santilli said the staffing situation has also made it difficult for many nursing homes to accept patients being discharged from hospitals — some of which are experiencing their own staffing challenges — and help free up beds during the omicron surge.
“These significant staffing shortages are so severe that nursing homes have been reporting all across the state, for many weeks now, an inability to meet their fundamental requirements to staff sufficiently to address the care needs of their residents,” said Matt Barrett, president and CEO of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities and the Connecticut Center for Assisted Living. “Many nursing homes are reporting an inability to take their admissions.”
Meanwhile, there’s been political pushback from a top state Republican to the idea of discharging COVID-19 patients from a hospital to a nursing home setting in the first place. Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, the top Senate Republican on the General Assembly’s Aging Committee, has called on Lamont to stop the practice, warning it will lead to further spread of infection.
“Any policy that knowingly introduces COVID-19 into nursing homes is not wise nor does it have the interests of nursing home residents top of mind,” Kelly wrote in a letter to the governor, urging him to heed the calls from concerned nursing home residents and their families and consider alternatives, such as reopening the state’s nursing homes devoted only to serving COVID-19 patients.
But Mag Morelli, president of LeadingAge Connecticut, said last week that the lack of available staffing makes the prospect of restarting those facilities challenging. Currently, COVID-19 patients are being isolated in their nursing homes.
“It’s difficult right now to staff a nursing home. It would be difficult to start to staff a brand-new nursing home,” she said. “So that idea is there, but it just has not come forward to fruition yet.”
Associated Press Writer Pat Eaton-Robb contributed to this report.