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Straight Talk: Long-term care facilities are facing a staffing crisis

Long-term care executive Phil Fogg is calling on the U.S. to treat the workforce shortage in health care as a "national crisis."

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Marquis Companies' CEO, Phil Fogg, compares the last two years in the long-term care industry to fighting a war. Fogg said the Coronavirus pandemic targeted the very population of people they serve.

"We have direct care staff and leaders who have been on the front lines of this battle for two long years," he said.

'Unrecognized heroes of pandemic'

Fogg called health care providers in long-term care the unrecognized heroes of the pandemic and said the Omicron variant is only adding to the pressure, just when they thought they were about to get off the front lines.

Philip Bentley is the CEO of the Oregon Health Care Association (OHCA), the largest long-term care trade association in Oregon. It represents more than 1,000 organizations in the state. 

Bentley said it's hard to believe the world is facing a surge of another variant two years into the pandemic.

"It's been the constant not knowing where the light at the end of the tunnel is that has been really challenging for our caregivers, a lot of our residents and their families," he said.

Fogg and Bentley were guests on this week's episode of KGW's "Straight Talk" to discuss what they called a crisis in the industry.

"If you told us two years ago we would still be facing a wave like we have today, a surge of a variant two years later, I don't think anybody would have believed it," Bentley said.

Credit: Provided by Marquis Companies
A long-term care worker receiving their coronavirus vaccine dose.

Health care workforce shortage threatens senior care

Fogg and Bentley said the long two years of the pandemic have caused fatigue, burnout and a health care worker shortage that threatens to impact long-term care for seniors.

Bentley said some of the providers the OHCA represents are on the brink financially. He mentioned one facility on the North Coast that may have to close its doors.

RELATED: 'It's affecting care': Long-term care facilities call on changes to better pay and retain staff

"So, in communities like that where there are not a lot of alternatives, not a lot of opportunities for seniors to receive long-term care, that can have a huge impact on those seniors in those communities," Bentley said.

A recent Morning Consult survey showed nearly one in five health care workers have quit their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic and 31% have considered leaving.

Temporary staffing agencies and wage inflation

Bentley said their providers have tried to recruit and retain staff through incentives like bonuses and raising wages but wage inflation is taking a toll. 

He said temporary staffing agencies are contributing to the wage inflation. With the worker shortage that means many long-term care providers have had to rely on temporary staffing agency personnel.

RELATED: Travel nurses can make four times what a staff nurse makes, leaving many frustrated

Credit: AP
An ICU nurse cares for a COVID-19 patient at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Ore., Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021. Nurses and medical staff say that one of the hardest parts of this whole experience for them, is caring for people suffering and dying of a syndrome that is preventable with a vaccine. (Kristyna Wentz-Graff/Pool Photo via AP)

"That has snowballed in a manner that the cost of the temporary staff has gone astronomically high and frankly is one of the contributing factors to some of our members not being able to continue to provide services in certain parts of our state," Bentley said.

The Oregon Health Care Association plans to ask the legislature to put some "sideboards" around temporary staffing agencies, including registering with the state and limiting what they can charge.

Providers want increase in Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements

Many long-term care providers rely on reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid. The legislature passed an increase in payments in 2021 but Bentley said they haven't been enough to keep up with the rising cost of care. 

The OHCA plans to ask lawmakers to pass another increase in the February 2022 session.

Fogg: 'We have to turn workforce shortage into a national crisis'

Phil Fogg was recently named the board chair of the national American Health Care Association (AHCA) which includes more than 14-thousand skilled nursing facilities and assisted living nursing centers across the country. 

He said the AHCA is working with Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, on national initiatives for the long-term care industry. They include investments in infrastructure at facilities to improve air exchange systems which he called a challenge during the pandemic.

"We have to turn this workforce shortage into a national crisis," Fogg said. "If we don't, we won't be capable of meeting the Boomer needs in the next five or six years as they kind of flood the health care delivery system," he said.

'No one is banging pots and pans anymore'

Tracy Berg is the Social Services Director for Marquis Hope Village's post-acute rehab facility. She said the pandemic has been hard on staff, residents, and families.

Credit: Marquis Companies
Tracy Berg has been working on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic for the past two years.


"No one is banging pots and pans and putting out "health care workers are heroes" signs anymore. It's kind of up to us to keep the momentum towards healing going," Berg said.

However, she called the work care providers do extremely rewarding.

"You have days that really are tough but the difference with health care is you actually get to see in a tangible way the difference your work is making every single day," Berg said.

She said it's those moments where she feels she's touched someone's life that keep her going and bring her great job gratification.

"It just fills your cup back up, it's incredible," she said.

'Making a difference every single day'

Phil Fogg's Marquis Companies include 28 facilities in Oregon, California, and Nevada, including post-acute rehab, long-term care, assisted living, and memory care. He said one of Marquis Companies' goals is to do a better job helping people understand how rewarding and important the work of health care providers in long-term care can be.

"That's really unique," he said. "That's different than if you are in the restaurant business with all due respect to restaurants. Every single day we get to make a difference in people's lives," Fogg said.

"Straight Talk" airs Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 6:30 p.m., and Sunday at 9:30 p.m.

"Straight Talk" is also available as a podcast.

WATCH: Straight Talk: How do we address the gun violence across Portland?

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