The Morning Call
October 3, 2023
September was Healthy Aging Month, which made it an ideal time to renew our commitment to ensuring quality care of older Americans in hospitals, nursing homes and other health care settings.
Pennsylvania state officials and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey deserve credit for focusing on this issue. New minimum staffing requirements for long-term care facilities that were established by the state went into effect in July. In the U.S. Senate, Casey chairs the Committee on Aging and has advocated for stronger oversight of the nation’s nursing homes, aiming to ensure that senior citizens are treated with respect and dignity.
Focusing on senior care is important for Pennsylvania, as the state population continues to grow older. Pennsylvania ranks fifth in the country in the number of residents age 65 or older, with more than 2.2 million. That age group is growing more than 20 times faster than the state’s general population. As these residents grow older, they are going to require more care and support.
At the same time, nursing homes across the state are facing a nurse staffing crisis, with 60% of facilities lacking enough nurses and nurse aides. The situation is expected to get worse, with a projected shortage of 37,000 direct care workers by 2026.
Given the ongoing nursing shortage, the impact of the new minimum staffing requirements for nursing homes and long-term care facilities is unclear. How can providers meet the requirement if they can’t find the staff they need? One solution is to help every available nurse work when and wherever they can.
Today, a new generation of apps can do that, connecting workers with health care providers. Nurses and nurse aides can open a staffing app, see what’s available locally and accept open shifts. Providers can post their needs and watch them get filled in real-time. Just as apps have transformed so many aspects of life, they can do the same for nursing.
This is good news for anyone who has a loved one in a nursing facility. As the founder of a company that launched a nurse staffing app for the long-term care industry, I can attest that it’s popular and effective in meeting needs.
Across the state, more than 3,200 nurses and nurse aides use the Gale app to get alerts about open shifts at local nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and other facilities and can accept assignments through the convenience of their smartphones. They also get paid quickly after they complete their shifts. This approach empowers nurses to take more control over their work life, which can help them avoid burnout and stay in the profession that needs them so desperately.
Given the highly regulated environment in which they are working, nurses and nurse aides in long-term care settings have traditionally been classified as employees. This is true for full-time nurses working at facilities and nurses employed by staffing firms that send them for temporary assignments.
Unfortunately, some newer app-based staffing companies have opted for a different model. They claim that because they only match workers with needs, they are not employers, and hence, avoid significant employee-related responsibilities and costs by treating their nurses as independent contractors. This means workers lose their rights to overtime, workers compensation insurance, unemployment and other benefits. It also puts the health care providers and patients at greater risk.
An upcoming rule from the Labor Department is expected to make it harder for companies to misclassify workers. In addition, a coalition of 30 leading health care staffing firms recently asked the Labor Department to clarify that temporary nursing staff should be working as employees. Both actions are important, because as nurses face record burnout and the stress of shortages, they deserve to be taken care of and protected.
While Healthy Aging Month was a moment to encourage older Pennsylvanians to adopt healthy habits and behaviors, it was also an opportunity to recognize the importance of our nursing workforce, the challenges the nursing shortage presents, and how common-sense policies and technological innovation can help ensure quality care.