GOSHEN — It’s been nearly two years since COVID-19 first hit the United States, and staff at nursing homes are still grappling with short-staffing and quarantines while striving to deliver quality care.
At Orange County’s Valley View Center for Health and Rehabilitation, the recent COVID spike resulted in dozens of staff being quarantined.
“Staffing was an issue even before COVID, but the workers providing patient care are truly in survival mode at this point,” said Orange County Unit President Denise Fuchs.
State officials recently dispatched the National Guard to a number of nursing homes across the state, including Valley View.
At Valley View, the National Guard members are assisting with administering COVID-19 tests to workers and taking certain patient care tasks off the plates of the already busy certified nursing assistants.
Orange County Local President Rosemarie Kukys, a registered nurse at Valley View, has been one of the staff assigned to handle staff COVID testing.
“The two National Guard members who are there in administrative roles have been helping with the COVID testing, which has made that a whole lot easier, and the medics are doing things like getting our male residents shaved and helping get people out of bed,” said Kukys. “They can’t do everything, but we’re glad to have those extra pairs of hands.”
In an effort to aid worker recruitment, county legislators approved a proposal to offer a signing bonus to new employees, as well as a referral bonus for existing county employees who recruit new colleagues.
CSEA leaders have been in talks with legislators to approve hazard pay for essential county workers using funds the county received through the American Rescue Plan. Fuchs said that while recruitment bonuses are important, incentives to compensate workers who’ve been on the job during the pandemic will not only reward workers, but hopefully retain them. That is especially important at Valley View, which has struggled to retain and attract staff.
Kukys said the nursing shortage at Valley View is representative of a problem plaguing the entire country. A shortage existed before the pandemic but has been exacerbated by people leaving this career field due to working conditions.
“Nurses are leaving the profession because of the way they’re treated,” said Kukys. “We’re beaten down and we feel like we can’t do any more than we’re doing now. Most other professions, you can close down, but we just don’t have that option. ”
— Jessica Ladlee