Seniors housing and care operators in Wisconsin increasingly are having difficulty filling caregiver positions, according to a new report from several state provider groups.

The average caregiver vacancy rate for Badger State operators in 2018 was 19%, according to “The Long-Term Care Workforce Crisis: A 2018 Report,” published by LeadingAge Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Assisted Living Association, the Wisconsin Health Care Association / Wisconsin Center for Assisted Living and the Disability Service Provider Network. The rate in 2016 was 14.5%, they said.

The groups surveyed 756 operators.

“Assisted living providers are closing their doors, or shutting down areas of their assisted living facilities, because they don’t have the staff to safely take care of the residents,” WALA Operations and Communications Director Sarah Bass told Wisconsin Public Radio.

Fifty-four percent of operators had no applicants for their caregiver positions, compared with 50% two years ago, according the report. Eighty-three percent said there were no qualified applicants for their open positions, up from 70% in 2016.

Half of those surveyed believed that they could not compete with other employers for workers, up from 30% in 2016. Sixty-seven percent of providers said personal caregivers left for jobs outside of healthcare, they said.

Pay appears to be a big factor. Whereas providers reported a median hourly wage of $10.75 for direct care workers, nonhealthcare employers were offering $12 per hour for unskilled work. And unemployment in the state is at a record low.

Solutions to the challenge, according to the report authors, are to increase the number of people entering caregiving careers, recognize and celebrate the work of caregivers, and promote caregiving as a meaningful and rewarding profession. Legislative action may be required, they said.