The long term care industry has long been struggling with a staffing crisis that shows no signs of abating. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that between 2020 and 2030, more than 275,000 additional nurses will be needed to meet the growing demand from the rapidly aging American population.
And as more people enter their senior years, they will undoubtedly need more care. By 2029, StatPearls estimates there will be a 73% increase in the number of Americans aged 65 and older. To make matters worse, there are approximately 70,000 nurses who are retiring each year, further exacerbating the current resident-to-nurse ratios, which are at an all-time high.
In an attempt to remedy the problems resulting from high resident-to-nurse ratios, some long term care administrators have decided to employ medication aides to work alongside their nurses. A medication aide is an unlicensed assistive personnel (UAP) who has been specially trained to administer medications to residents.
The five biggest responsibilities of a medication aide are:
- Managing and administering daily medication to patients or residents
- Observing residents and documenting any health changes in the long term care EHR
- Cleaning equipment that is used to provide care to residents
- Recording medication dosages and their time of administration in the eMAR software
- Gathering samples from residents for analysis
The Value of Having a Med Aide in a Nursing Home
A med aide can be invaluable to a long term care facility, as they can use the facility’s care plan software to administer medications to residents, as well as perform other non-medical care tasks. This is particularly helpful to nurses, as it enables them to perform other care-critical tasks.
Of course, with all the advantages med aides provide in a facility, they still do not offer the solution to all staffing-related issues. This is because med aides are only trained to do tasks similar to those mentioned above, and they cannot act as a replacement for nurses in general.
Those interested in becoming a medication aide can apply to a number of approved medication aide training programs assuming they meet certain requirements. As an example, in Wisconsin, aspiring med aides are required to meet the following standards:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Have a high school diploma or its equivalent
- Be in the State of Wisconsin nurse aide directory
- Be in on the federal nurse aide directory
- Have at least 2,000 hours of experience caring for patients in the last three years
A med aide usually receives their certification after six weeks of basic training. The training is related to being familiar with medications and the process of administering oral medications. However, the training does not include the administration of respiratory medications, IVs, or administering medications via injections. Therefore, these responsibilities still lie with the attending nurses.
Should there be any clinical-related tasks that a resident may need, the nurse will intervene and take over. This is why administrators should not rely too heavily on med aides. In addition, there are strict government regulations that specify what a med aide can and cannot do, and administrators must ensure that their facility abides by them.
Contact us here if you would like to test drive our user-friendly long term care software.
How a Medication Aide and an LTC Nurse Can Work Together
Ideally, administrators should have one LTC nurse for every two med aides. This ratio enables a medication aide to quickly administer medications while still under the supervision of a trained and certified nurse. This is because, while med aides help mitigate employee staffing costs, they are essentially powerless in emergencies, as they do not have the necessary training. Additionally, if too few nurses are in the facility, this can result in elder abuse or lead to medical malpractice charges.
Still, it should be emphasized that medication aide jobs are extremely practical when used correctly. That means clearly defined roles and responsibilities that meet federal and state regulations. A med aide to assist nurses allows them to focus on medical tasks, improve work efficiency, and provide better care for their residents, which enhances the quality of care.
Med aides who have undergone proper medication aide training should function as extensions of nurses in a long term care facility with a limited capacity. Med aides need to understand what they can and cannot do and seek the help of a nurse for medical-related tasks. Non-medical tasks are a different matter, and med aides can often perform them with the use of effective long term care software.
Potential Staffing Alternatives to a Medication Aide
A medication aide is one way to help nurses perform their tasks during a staffing shortage. Another possible solution is the hallway ambassador who performs non-medical duties, such as welcoming residents’ families to a facility and taking new families for facility tours.
Like a med aide, a hallway ambassador gives nurses more time to concentrate on providing better care for their residents. Some nursing homes have already implemented a trial run of hallway ambassadors and have seen success with this program.
This trend may catch on due to a number of perceived benefits:
- A hallway ambassador does not need to be a highly skilled medical professional. Like medication aides, the nursing home can save on salary costs.
- The job is attractive on account of not being as intense as nursing while still being given the opportunity to help seniors and their families.
- It comes with a flexible schedule, as hallway ambassadors do not need to work odd hours. In fact, some hallways ambassadors work part-time.
Nursing homes that implement a med aide program together with hallway ambassadors can expect reduced workloads for their nurses. Med aides can handle most of the medication responsibilities and hallway ambassadors the formalities expected of nursing homes.
Ideally, the staffing problem could be resolved with more government funding for nurse training. This, though, would still require enough people interested in the profession. To do so, high-school students could be encouraged to become nurses with incentives like student loan debt forgiveness, guaranteed job opportunities, clear salary expectations, and job growth opportunities. This will give them realistic expectations of what potential opportunities there are in the nursing profession and why it is a worthy profession to pursue.
While there is no clear solution to the staffing crisis, the innovative solutions provided by prominent figures like Dr. David Gifford do provide hope. An easy first step is for every state to adopt med aides and learn how to safely and efficiently make use of their time.
- Why an EHR Consultant Is Necessary for Every Long-Term Care Facility - September 20, 2023
- ICD 10 Hypertension Codes: Everything You Need to Know - September 14, 2023
- Senior Living Occupancy Rates on the Rise but Still Short of Pre-Pandemic Levels - September 14, 2023