Mark Parkinson headshot
AHCA / NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson

Recovery to pre-pandemic staffing levels in nursing homes could take until 2026 unless the industry receives a “boost” from policymakers, the American Health Care Association said Monday.

The sector is beginning to see some gains in new workers after two years of steady monthly job losses, according to data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than 9,000 jobs were added in July in nursing homes and assisted living communities, the bureau reported.

At the current rate of approximately 4,600 jobs added per month in nursing homes, and without any government policies or assistance to boost recruitment efforts for providers, however, it will take four more years to recover to pre-pandemic staffing levels, AHCA said.

“Our caregivers, who are working themselves ragged, and our growing elderly population, can’t afford to wait another four years,” AHCA President and CEO Mark Parkinson said in a press release. “The long-term care workforce needs a boost now. We urge federal and state policymakers to put their support behind policies that attract and retain caregivers for our nation’s seniors.”

Nursing home staffing has not recovered at the same rate as hospitals, physicians’ offices and other healthcare facilities, which have either reached or exceeded pre-pandemic staffing levels, according to AHCA.

The skilled nursing sector has lost 362,700 jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic and has recovered only slightly, the association said. Nursing homes still are experiencing a loss of 223,700 (14.1%) employees since the start of the pandemic, and the overall number of nursing home employees is at its lowest point in almost three decades, according to AHCA. 

“Rebuilding the long-term care workforce will not happen by decree. Nursing homes cannot solve this labor crisis on their own,” Parkinson said. “We need policymakers and stakeholders to work together to address the root causes of the staffing challenges in nursing homes and employ a comprehensive set of solutions.”

One solution, according to AHCA and LeadingAge, is the Care for our Seniors Act.