by Rachel Bunch, Executive Director, Arkansas Health Care Association
Good leaders know that if you look hard enough for the lesson, troubled times can provide an opportunity. Every problem can be a chance to grow, to learn, to prove yourself and do what's right.
That theory has been put to the test in Arkansas's long-term care facilities over the past few years, and our industry has risen to the challenge. Almost three years after the first COVID-19 cases in Arkansas, things are finally getting back to normal in our state's care facilities. Fewer masks and more smiles. More togetherness and less fear. One thing holding us back, however, is a lingering hiring crisis that has hit long-term care particularly hard. During Careers in Aging Week, I want to set the stage for what challenges we are facing and what opportunities arise for everyday Arkansans.
According to a study released in January by the American Health Care Association, 210,000 workers (13.3% of the entire long-term care workforce) have left the profession nationwide since February 2020. That's the highest quit-rate of the entire health care sector. Over 95% of nursing home providers reported difficulty hiring staff, even though 9 out of 10 said they've increased pay and offered bonuses to boost recruitment.
In addition to stretching resources thin, the shortage is beginning to have an impact on the ability to accept new patients. More than half of those surveyed report they've had to turn away prospective residents because they didn't have enough staff to care for them. Almost 70 percent said they're concerned they may have to close if these challenges continue.
In Arkansas, one of the things that often unites us is a loyalty to family and a strong sense of respect for our elders. For Arkansans with a heart to serve and a calling to help those in need, this crisis represents a golden opportunity.
Whether you're a young person looking for a rewarding path, a former healthcare worker who took a break, or yearning for a job where you can make a real difference, there's never been a better time to
work in long-term care. Pay and advancement opportunities for many positions are at an all-time high, and our Arkansas Health Care Association members across the state stand ready to provide the training, flexibility and support needed to excel.
This is a chance to have a stable, good-paying job that truly matters, working every day with aging Arkansans who have lessons and laughter to share. Simply put: Arkansas needs you, and you can find a rewarding career in the process.
Despite the staffing challenges we face in long term care, we are seeing progress thanks to state leadership who are committed to strengthening our workforce. That includes Gov. Sanders' executive order establishing the Governor's Workforce Cabinet and appointing a Chief Workforce Officer for the state. All are steps in the right direction. I ask that you consider what your role is as we work together to seek a solution. You might just find a rewarding opportunity hiding inside.
Rachel Bunch has served as the executive director of the Arkansas Health Care Association for the past nine years. Established in 1951, the AHCA is the state’s largest organization of long-term care providers, representing more than 90 percent of the licensed long-term care facilities in Arkansas. For more information, visit ARHealthCare.com.