John O'Connor illustration
McKnight’s Editorial Director John O’Connor

It’s hardly a secret that senior living has a major staffing challenge on its hands.

There simply are not enough people willing to do the hard work that needs to be done at the prevailing wage rates. Given those realities, any and all measures that can relieve some of the pressure are more than welcome. As it happens, there’s a move afoot in Virginia that could do exactly that.

As my colleague Kim Bonvissuto recently reported, the Virginia Board of Nursing is moving to remove barriers to training and improving hiring practices for certified nursing assistants across the state. If the measure passes, CNAs would soon be able to meet their training requirements in assisted living communities.

I see only one problem with this development: It’s not being advocated nearly enough elsewhere. In most other locales, CNAs must receive training in skilled nursing facilities. But given the increasingly complex caregiving needs of many assisted living residents, the expanded training option makes good sense.

Judy Hackler, executive director of the Virginia Assisted Living Association, told Kim that the regulatory change is a permanent solution to a temporary waiver the commonwealth authorized early in the pandemic to remove restrictions on training locations for the clinical hours CNAs need outside of a geriatric long-term care facility.

“This waiver was successful and allowed for assisted living communities and other healthcare facilities to train additional CNAs to help with providing continued resident care with permanent staff members,” Hackler said. “Having additional training facilities for CNAs will help to alleviate overall workforce shortages existing for assisted living communities and other healthcare providers.”


And the timing here could hardly be better. Fully 86% of the state’s assisted living communities and nursing facilities said that their workforce situations had worsened during COVID-19, according to a survey by the Virginia Health Care Association / Virginia Center for Assisted Living. Approximately 93% of facilities reported vacancies for CNAs and direct caregivers.

It’s probably safe to say that these staffing deficits are just as bad — and perhaps even worse — in many other states.

Let’s hope that this measure is approved in Virginia. And that other states follow suit.

Let’s face it, communities need all the help they can get. And this commonsense shift can only help.

John O’Connor is editorial director for McKnight’s Senior Living and its sister media brands, McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, which focuses on skilled nursing, and McKnight’s Home Care. Read more of his columns here.