UPPER NAZARETH TWP., Pa. - Nursing shortages were a harsh reality before COVID changed the world; now the issue has worsened at both hospitals and long-term care facilities.

“Staffing is a problem at Gracedale, just like it is at Cedarbrook,” said Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure. “Every long-term care facility in the Commonwealth has the same problem."

The nursing shortage has hit close to home.

”We probably need to fill about 80 to 100 of the openings that we have in order to be at a complement we're truly comfortable with, but remember, the heroes that are showing up shift after shift to care for their residents are doing a great job,” said McClure.

Health care heroes across the country, in Pennsylvania, and in the Lehigh Valley are working extra hard, long shifts to care for patients.

“Everybody's feeling the effects of it,” said Robert Shipp, the vice president of Population Health and Clinical Affairs at the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania. "When I talk to hospital CEOs and chief nursing officers, everybody reports that they have a challenge in some capacity or another."

Now the health care industry braces for what may be more losses, if nurses don’t get vaccinated against COVID in accordance with network mandates.

“It very well may have an impact but it's an impact that everybody's going to have together,” said Shipp.

WFMZ asked St. Luke's whether it expects to have more openings given the deadline for workers to get the vaccine is coming up. The network said no one was available to comment Thursday, given the holiday.

This week, the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, which represents long-term care facilities in Pennsylvania, testified at a joint Senate hearing about the Department of Health's proposal to raise nursing home staffing levels.

”In just the past few months, open and unfilled positions have significantly increased, while qualified applicants have steadily decreased,” said Zach Shamberg, the CEO and president of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association. “Providers have lost on average about 20% of their workforce since last March."

The Pennsylvania Health Care Association says more than 80% of its members have been forced to limit new admissions due to lack of staff.

That includes Cedarbrook in Lehigh County, which normally would care for about 625 residents, but is now caring for about one hundred less.

WFMZ also reached out to Lehigh Valley Health Network Thursday but did not hear back.

Advocates say in order to start fixing this problem, they need more funding to invest in the workforce, and more attention given to training programs at colleges and universities.

Shipp also recommends retainment programs, so nurses trained in Pennsylvania have incentives to stay in the Keystone State.

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