Alabama nursing homes battling staffing shortages amid COVID uptick

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — As COVID cases rise and many county transmission levels are in the red, Alabama Nursing Home Association Spokesman John Matson says the high vaccination rates among residents and staff have helped keep cases down.

According to the CDC, about 88% of residents and 84% of staff in Alabama nursing homes are fully vaccinated.

Matson says across the state’s roughly 230 facilities, nursing homes are reporting about 200 to 300 COVID-19 cases a week. This marks an uptick from the 10 to 20 cases that were seen before the latest variant.

“To say that we are turning the corner right now is accurate. Are we out of the woods? Not yet, but we’re getting close,” Matson said.

Matson says when county cases go up, it’s typically reflected in nursing homes. John Knox Manor II in Montgomery is keeping a close eye on the virus, with the county’s transmission level rated high. They recently had an employee test positive, but currently have no resident cases.

“It wouldn’t be out of the question for that to happen though, because when you see staff uptick you do tend to see a resident here or there,” John Knox Manor II Assistant Administrator Grace Miller said.

Miller says right now the big concern is staffing. They’ve had to shut down their COVID wing because they don’t have enough nurses.

“We’ve had the issue of reopening that based on the fact that there’s such a major staffing crisis right now. We have the residents to come in but don’t have the staff to take care of them,” Miller said.

John Knox Manor II isn’t alone in that. Those at Capitol Hill Healthcare in Montgomery say they’re also COVID-free among residents, but the issue is hiring.

“I think the much bigger concern is the exodus from health care for employees who left health care altogether,” Capitol Hill Healthcare Admissions Director Shannon Randolph said.

Randolph says they’d be able to care for more residents if they had more staff.

“The bigger issue seems to be an overall decrease at least in Alabama with health care staff in general,” Randolph said.

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