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Nursing facilities in Pennsylvania short-staffed

Data compiled by a lobbying group for nursing homes in the state paints a bleak picture where patients could be placed on waiting lists.

CARBONDALE, Pa. — The pandemic's impact on nursing and personal care homes in Pennsylvania may be felt for years to come.

A lobbying group representing dozens of nursing and personal care homes across the state says three-quarters of the facilities it represents have had to reduce the number of patients they can care for in the past six months.

It all has to do with a staffing crisis that started before the pandemic.

All our lives have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but living inside a nursing home or working for one has changed in ways that are difficult for Noelle Kovaleski to comprehend. She's the administrator for Carbondale Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

"It's been life-changing. The industry has changed significantly over the last year. I can't really say for the better. It's been more challenging than it has been in the past, it's always been a challenging industry, but it definitely has much bigger challenges over the last year," Kovaleski said.

As the spread of the COVID-19 virus slowed, another problem started to spread. Kovaleski says there's been a mass exodus of nurses leaving the long-term care industry, not just in Carbondale but at facilities across the state.

The Pennsylvania Health Care Association, a lobbying group for long-term care facilities, says three-quarters of all of those facilities are having to turn away patients.

Most of that is in nursing homes, where 85% of those surveyed said they have had to limit admissions.

Kovaleski says she has had to limit admissions several times in the last six months at Carbondale Nursing and Rehab. 

Finding placement in a long-term care facility in Pennsylvania is likely going to be a long-term problem outlasting COVID-19.

"There is definitely going to be an access-to-care problem because the staffing crisis isn't getting any better. It is continually getting worse, especially with the vaccine mandate that's pending. So, yeah, it is going to be a big issue when it comes to access to care. There already is an access-to-care issue, but it's going to get worse."

Kovaleski says during the height of the pandemic, the federal government loosened some restrictions allowing nursing homes to hire temporary nurses, and that helped. She says the solution to this problem will require some government intervention, including more funding from Medicaid and Medicare. For now, nursing homes are trying their best to recruit more nurses.