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Kentucky needs more nurses to inspect nursing homes. State officials say there isn’t a quick fix

The photo shows a closeup of an older person's hands, clasped in front of them, as they sit under a blanket.
Mary Smyth
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Getty Images
Kentucky's state government is behind on safety inspections of nursing homes.

The Kentucky government is behind on its safety inspections for nursing homes — and it has far too few surveyors to deal with that backlog.

State officials told Kentucky lawmakers Tuesday they’re raising salaries and taking other steps to fill the vacancies. But there’s no quick fix.

“It’s going to take us, if we’re lucky, a year to dig out of this,” Secretary Eric Friedlander of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services said.

The Lexington Herald-Leader recently reported on how the cabinet has fallen well behind schedule on its periodic inspections of nursing homes.

Kentucky isn’t the only state that’s behind on these inspections. A May report by a U.S. Senate committee found that one in nine nursing homes throughout the country have gone at least two years without an annual inspection.

But the commonwealth’s problems appear worse than most.

That recent Senate report listed Kentucky as the state with the highest vacancy rate for the surveyors tasked with inspecting nursing homes, with 2022 data putting the rate at 83%.

At a legislative committee meeting Tuesday afternoon, Friedlander and other cabinet officials said a staffing shortage is a driving factor behind the slowdown in inspections.

Kentucky needs more nurses to inspect nursing homes across the state. But Friedlander said it’s hard to hire nurses —- not just for this type of job, but for a range of government positions. He noted that’s true in other states as well.

The cabinet’s strategies include increasing the salaries for the surveyors responsible for inspecting nursing homes. They've also created job opportunities for licensed practical nurses to work on inspections, with the ability to be promoted eventually.

It’s also working with an outside agency to hire nurses to work on contract, with the option to hire them on as state employees later.

“I’m hoping we are at the nadir. I’m hoping we are at the bottom, but I cannot swear to you all,” Friedlander told lawmakers in Frankfort. “It has been a tremendous challenge retaining and hiring nurses.”

Friedlander noted the cabinet has had success with similar efforts to reduce turnover among Kentucky social workers.

Morgan is LPM's health reporter. Email Morgan at mwatkins@lpm.org.