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Nursing home labor shortages persist across Wyoming, Mountain West

Wheelchair in an empty hallway
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News brief: 

Several states in the Mountain West are struggling with understaffing at nursing homes, according to recent data from the AARP, an advocacy group for older Americans.

The pandemic amplified nursing homes' long-standing workforce issues, as nearly a quarter of nursing homes in the U.S. report not having enough nurses or aides.

In the Mountain West, Colorado, Utah, Montana and Idaho all self-report more shortages than the national average. In Wyoming, nearly two-thirds of nursing homes say they’re understaffed – the second-highest rate in the country.

Eric Boley, president of the Wyoming Hospital Association, said the problem is getting worse because the industry isn’t attracting enough new workers right now.

“We just haven't been able to replace those people that quit during the pandemic, and have either retired or gone into other professions,” he said.

Boley said he’s seen facilities offer increased salaries, bonuses and scholarships for students to no avail.

“A lot of our nursing homes are only able to staff up to about 60% of their beds,” he said. “It's not because there aren't enough people that need long-term care.”

Some homes across the Mountain West have closed altogether due to labor and financial issues, and multiple hospitals have cut services this year.

Boley said his industry needs to recruit more people into the healthcare profession through education and advocacy programs.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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