Leaders from Kentucky’s long-term care industry implored state lawmakers Thursday to provide more support for its bruised and battered workforce.

Nursing homes are struggling with staff shortages and rising costs while relying largely on fixed payments from Medicare and Medicaid, leaders of the state’s aging associations told a legislative committee considering ideas for a special legislative session on COVID-19.

“We remain very concerned about the stability for the future,” said Tim Veno, president of LeadingAge Kentucky, which represents skilled nursing and assisted living operators as well as other aging services providers. “Our members have been devastated by COVID, emotionally, physically and financially.”

Betsy Johnson, president of the Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities, presented data showing that the majority of the state’s skilled nursing facilities say they expect to lose at least 11% of their workforce as a result of the mandate, and survey results show 4% of those employees would not only leave the healthcare field but would plan to remain unemployed. As of Sept. 2, 52% of nursing home workers in Kentucky were fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. 

The mandate “singles out skilled nursing facilities only,” Johnson said. “This places us at a severe disadvantage in competing for a workforce.”

Veno and Johnson requested that the committee provide any assistance they could, including steering more federal money, meant for COVID-19 relief, to their members.