Pennsylvania state capitol government building in Harrisburg, PA, USA, front view in sunlight.
Pennsylvania state capitol. (Credit: catnap72 / Getty Images)

The state of Pennsylvania is undertaking a study of staffing trends during the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to determine how to help the long-term care industry.

Senate Resolutions 288, passed by the Pennsylvania Senate on Tuesday, directs the Joint State Government Commission to analyze wage rates for staff and contract nurses, as well as staffing agency rates, to determine how pandemic staffing affected Medicaid spending. The commission also will consider wage increases, nurse ratios, care levels and the increased need for specialized staff from 2018 to the present.

Assisted living communities and personal care homes will be included in the study, although it will have a strong focus on nursing homes because assisted living providers do not receive Medicaid reimbursement for resident care.

Including all three components is important, however, since the staffing crisis is being felt throughout the long-term care continuum, Pennsylvania Health Care Association President and CEO Zach Shamberg said.

Pennsylvania Assisted Living Association Executive Director Margie Zelenak told McKnight’s Senior Living that she hopes the study can shine a light on the price gouging undertaken by some of the staffing agencies that communities have relied on due to workforce shortages.

“I would hope the study shows the extent of the bonuses and overtime personal care and assisted living paid their staff during COVID and continue to pay for recruitment and retention,” Zelenak added. “Personal care and assisted living did not receive any COVID relief funding specifically for staff recruitment and retention, and this study will reflect the need to appropriate funding to these communities that continue to fight the rising cost of the workforce and inflation.”

PALA also supports HB 2293, which Zelenak said would address some of its members’ concerns about staffing agencies. 

Shamberg said the Joint State Government Commission study will further help lawmakers “take steps to support long-term care, either by investing in our sector or by making regulatory improvements.”

“It’s evident there is a workforce crisis and a financial struggle to address that crisis as providers compete with other employers in unfair wage wars,” Shamberg said. “This study can apply a magnifying glass to the issues and demonstrate the steps providers are taking while facing continued challenges and obstacles.”

Shamberg said by the start of 2023, the Keystone State should have a “clearer picture of shortfalls, obstacles and challenges facing long-term care providers in Pennsylvania, as well as a clearer path forward on solutions.”

Long-term care facilities throughout the state are struggling with increased staffing costs and a workforce shortage, state Sen. Judy Ward (R-Blair) said in a statement. A study, she said, would provide insight into “what we are up against.”

“This legislation will give us a clear picture of what is driving the challenges that our long-term care facilities have faced in obtaining and keeping staff,” Ward said. Then, using the study’s findings as a roadmap, we can provide much-needed help to this critical industry.”