Who would have thought that the staffing challenges of 2019 would be something to yearn for? And yet here we are.

As we pass the nine-month mark since the first known case of coronavirus arrived in a U.S. long-term care facility, a new survey provides more evidence that the pandemic has exacerbated long-standing workforce issues in senior living, skilled nursing and healthcare.

The survey of 2,100 industry professionals, by human capital management software company OnShift found that finding and hiring qualified job candidates (67%) is the top workforce challenge facing operators, followed by employee turnover (57%).

The ranking of those findings are flipped compared with 2019, which OnShift said suggests that although turnover remains a major issue, hiring qualified candidates has become even more difficult due to the pandemic.

Some other findings:

  • From last year to this year, there was a 50% year-over-year increase in survey respondents citing staffing to meet resident care needs (47%) and managing excess labor costs (33%) as top workforce challenges.
  • 74% of poll participants reported difficulties with consistently filling shifts, with operators turning to overtime (73%), managers working open shifts (37%), adjusting employee roles (31%) or using agencies (24%) to cover their staffing needs. But 33% of respondents still said some shifts do not have enough staff.

Not surprisingly, and reflecting probable reasons that recruiting and retaining workers is more difficult than ever, respondents said that burnout (80%) and fear and safety concerns due to COVID-19 (65%) are the top personal challenges facing members of the long-term care workforce.

And sadly, the majority of respondents said they believe that the challenges of finding qualified employees (71%), managing labor costs (68%) and retaining employees (65%) will stay the same or worsen for the next three years.

The coronavirus isn’t the only reason for workforce challenges in the industry. But as COVID-19 vaccines become available, as more therapeutics are developed to combat the virus, and as science reveals more information about it, operators finally may emerge from crisis mode, and staffing challenges may recede to their pre-pandemic levels. And then, we hope, industry and government efforts to solve those challenges will continue on and bear fruit.