COVID-19 pandemic: Illinois nursing homes face ‘breaking point’ staffing crisis, certified nursing assistants needed

CHICAGO (WLS) — Staffing at Illinois nursing homes is reaching a breaking point, and it’s disproportionately impacting people of color during the pandemic, according to a new state report.

“Black and brown customers were disproportionately impacted by disease and death because they were more likely to reside in poorly staffed facilities and in ward-style rooms containing four or five beds,” said Kelly Cunningham with the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

The department presented its report to an Illinois legislative committee this week. The report lists recommendations that would reform the nursing home system, impacting facilities that get paid to help Medicaid residents.

Along with reforming how Medicaid pays the facilities, the report also looked at staffing shortages, like those impacting certified nursing assistants.

“I can think of no more important race that we are in right now but to send a message to that labor force that we’re going to pay you more, not just in a bonus for signing on, but staying here next year and the year after that,” said Andy Ellison, Deputy Director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

It’s a message CNA students at Malcolm X College are eager to hear as they study for their state board exams by the end of 2021.

They’re looking forward to this stepping stone in their careers.

“I’m a people person. I love taking care of people. I love helping them. It’s just a niche for me. It just felt like it was the right fit,” said Mía Colón, a Malcolm X CNA student.

Colón and her Malcolm X College classmates are studying to be certified nursing assistants as Illinois nursing homes face a crisis.

“As students going into that field, fresh off the campus, it’s a little nerve-racking knowing we’re at a shortage and we’re probably going to be a little more overworked than the regular CNA,” Colón said.

The DHFS report states that Illinois consistently ranks last place when it comes to staffing at facilities, especially those serving Medicaid residents.

“This is not a report that can sit on the shelf and collect dust. The need to take action is now,” Cunningham said.

The state’s staff is recommending higher pay for CNAs too.

“Make it more of a profession, to give it a pay scale, to allow for promotion, to provide a pay off for staying with hit,” Ellison said.

As for the students, they are ready to work.

“I’ll get hired and start working,” said Afi Hounkpati, a Malcolm X student.

Harpreet Kaur, a fellow student, recognizes they have options as well. “We’re going to have so many options. So many cities, so many hospitals, so many nursing homes,” she added.

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