Fixing New Jersey’s Health Care Jobs Crisis

Source: NJ Spotlight

The New Jersey Business and Industry Association (NJBIA) has partnered with the state’s community colleges to develop a targeted training model that connects health care graduates with credentials and opportunities for career advancement.

“Over the years this has been an issue that never seems to go away. It’s always front and center,” said Chrissy Buteas, NJBIA’s chief government affairs officer, who has also worked in the state’s home-care sector. “This partnership is critical to try to get more people into the pipeline for these fields. Whether it be direct care, nursing, dental, you name it, we are seeing very severe workforce challenges.”

Nursing assistants, who provide 90% of the care in nursing homes, earn an average of $15 an hour in New Jersey, and at least one in 10 lack health insurance, studies show. There are nearly 16,000 certified nursing assistants, or CNAs, in New Jersey, according to a recent report, and close to 6,000 licensed practical nurses (LPNs), who also provide direct care. Another 5,000 active registered nurses, or RNs, administer medications, create care plans and assist at the bedside. Women comprise nine out of 10 members of this direct care workforce, it noted, while 84% are people of color, and half are immigrants.

Some facilities, like nursing homes have long struggled with staffing challenges. COVID-19 amplified the problem, sickening many workers and forcing others to quarantine just in case. Last week alone, more than 2,800 nursing home workers and nearly 200 hospital staff tested positive, according to state data. Caregivers are now exhausted, struggling with anxiety and depression, and leaving the workforce in growing numbers.

Staffing shortages at New Jersey’s nursing homes hampered their response to the pandemic, and that contributed to high levels of viral spread and deaths, according to a June 2020 consultant’s report. Among other things, the report recommended better wages and benefits for nursing aides, plus paths for professional development. A new task force is now reviewing workforce issues and other nursing home concerns, officials said, and will report to the Legislature by year’s end.

“It’s a nationwide problem,” state health Commissioner Judy Persichilli, whose department regulates nursing homes, told the Assembly Budget Committee in late April, “and some of the same struggles and issues we have in New Jersey are definitely national problems. And workforce, infrastructure and staffing are probably the three main areas. We focus on that every day.”

Gov. Phil Murphy’s $49.5 billion budget proposal for fiscal year 2023, which lawmakers must approve before it starts in July, includes tens of millions for various workforce training initiatives in multiple industries, in addition to short-term funding to boost certain caregivers’ pay. There is also a new $1 million appropriation to fund a career-development program for direct support professionals. Another $1 million would be used to train more nurse-midwives under the plan and $500,000 would fund community health worker training.


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