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Nursing aid shortage forces northern Michigan facilities to close, leaves the vulnerable at greater risk

Of more than 9,000 nursing homes analyzed, 61% were cited for one or more infection-control deficiencies.
Resolution Productions/Getty Images/Tetra images RF
Getty Images/Tetra images RF
Of more than 9,000 nursing homes analyzed, 61% were cited for one or more infection-control deficiencies.

Congregate care facilities, like nursing homes and adult foster cares, are facing a desperate staffing shortage. It's forcing some area facilities to close and leading to an increase in unmet care needs.

Wages have stagnated, and the profession is among the lowest paid in the country. In Michigan, the median pay for these workers in 2020 was between $11.85-$15.18 an hour—according to the group, IMPART Alliance, which is lobbying the state legislature to increase salaries. A starting job at McDonald's right now could be close to $10 an hour more.

Direct care workers, or nursing aids, do the intimate work of helping bathe, feed and support the wellbeing of the elderly and those dealing with health issues. Fewer staff means existing workers are stretched thin and some vulnerable people may not be getting enough attention.

“It’s heartbreaking when it comes to that,” says Heidi Gustine, the executive director of the Area Agency on Aging of Northwest Michigan. "What is your quality of life?"

Due to the shortage, there are also fewer spots opening in nursing homes and hospitals are unable to discharge some patients because they can’t line up care, Gustine says.

Two facilities in Traverse City report shutting down due to inadequate staff, and others say they are barely able to manage with dozens of care positions left unfilled.

Meanwhile, COVID is surging again in the state and even some vaccinated people are vulnerable to infection from variants. Grand Traverse Pavilions is in the midst of an outbreak. Sick and quarantining staff will add to the challenges of managing care for its patients.

Taylor Wizner covers heath, tourism and other news for Interlochen Public Radio.