Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill aimed at easing workforce shortages in the senior living industry and creating a permanent pathway to employment.

Senate Bill 1268, sponsored by Sen. Judy Ward (R-Hollidaysburg),a former nurse and chair of the state Senate Aging and Youth Committee, allows temporary nurse aides hired during the COVID-19 pandemic to be placed on the state’s Certified Nurse Aide Registry and become eligible for permanent employment in long-term care facilities, including assisted living communities.

During the pandemic, federal and state regulatory and statutory provisions were waived by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The move was seen as a way to help relieve chronic understaffing.  

Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, said long-term care providers in the state were facing the “greatest workforce crisis in the history of the sector” even before the pandemic. Since the temporary nurse aide program was formally approved in April, nearly 4,000 people completed training and were hired at assisted living communities, personal care homes and nursing homes. 

“Temporary nurse aides are being hired by long-term care providers every day, and their commitment to patient care, coupled with the lessons they’ve learned during an unprecedented public health emergency, has strengthened a workforce pipeline that had been careening toward disaster for years,” Shamberg said. “This vital legislation which is now law, will ensure their continued role in our facilities and communities.”

Temporary nurse aides were required to complete an eight-hour online training course and go through 80 hours of hands-on training at long-term care facilities. 

“Temporary nurse aides served admirably and compassionately during the severe challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the on-the-job training they received should count for something,” Ward said. “In light of their tremendous contributions to the health and safety of our citizens, temporary nurse aides deserve a pathway to continue full-time employment after the pandemic is behind us.”