Woodland Care Center works to address staffing levels

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With the weight of the pandemic decreasing slowly, nursing homes across the area like Woodland Care Center (WCC), are doing what they can to provide the best care possible despite drastic staff shortages. 

Justin Settlemier, the president of Woodland Care Center, said they have an emergency staffing plan, which includes help from county resources. 

“We’ve worked with Cowlitz County emergency management,” Settlemier said. “We’ve had some success there, but the most success we’ve had has been having our staff members pick up additional shifts.”

Settlemier said other agencies like the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services have provided support, specifically “crisis management” support, by sending nurses and certified nursing assistants, but they too are also short on staff. He noted that it’s been challenging to keep staff at times because WCC is competing against facilities within their own industry and a lot of places are trying to recruit staff from other buildings. 

“We haven’t received the support at the state level that we think we should have and a lot of us have had to compete against each other to recruit staff,” Settlemier said. “It does a disservice to us all, as we should have the full support we need during an outbreak to not have to go to those levels. It ends up being more costly and limits providers in the care they can provide because they’re trying so hard just to maintain staff.”

Although having outside help from other agencies is beneficial to prevent staffing shortages, Settlemier said it’s also challenging because “they’re competent, but it’s not the same as having your own trained staff members that understand all the little details they need to provide excellence at all times.”

WCC primarily provides rehabilitation, long term care and assisted living. Settlemier said they have also added an independent living unit recently. Some patients have dementia or other cognitive disabilities. On top of those challenges, not being able to see family has been an obstacle for its residents as well.

“It’s been a really big challenge to not have folks in when we had our outbreak last year,” Settlemier said. “When this outbreak started, we had to rely on Zoom calls. I think that’s challenging because they’re not seeing their loved ones face to face and they’re not making those same memories. It’s just a whole different world and very confusing for them.”

He said the dementia patients especially thrive when they have a routine, which has been thrown off when an outbreak happens or a COVID-19 wing moves into the building, which brings a halt to some of the activities. 

“I think it’s negatively impacted their mental health quite a bit, which is unfortunate,” Settlemier said. 

Being around others and having mental stimulation is helpful for many of the residents, but that has also been difficult to fulfill because of social distancing and constant routine changes. 

Settlemier said state legislators will meet with WCC officials in January in regards to Medicaid reimbursement and additional funding. The delay has created additional challenges for both staff and residents.

“We don’t need mandate fixes. We need long term solutions,” Settlemier said. “Going forward, we rely on legislators to create a budget for our providers to help the Medicaid and Medicare patients that we take care of. We want to be seen, we want to be heard, and we want people to know how essential this is for our patients.”

Since the pandemic started, WCC has had 25 COVID-19 cases. Out of those cases, between 60-70% affected residents, while the remainder impacted staff, according to Settlemier. There were no active cases as of Nov. 12. 

WCC’s facility is currently open to visitors, but state mandates are still in place, which require all staff to wear masks and to be vaccinated. Staff members are also tested twice a week. Settlemier said staffing is at an adequate level for now and said the care center is doing the best it can to keep it that way until they create a solution with legislators.



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