Willow Point Nursing Home closes another unit due to staffing shortages

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Willow Point Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Vestal. (Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo/WSKG)

VESTAL, NY (WSKG) —Staffing shortages at Broome County’s Willow Point Nursing Home have forced officials to declare a state of emergency. The facility is suspending admissions and shutting down a third unit, after closing two units just last month.

Willow Point’s budget calls for 216 direct care staff. Currently, it only has 81, according to a recent report from Willow Point Administrator Ryan LaClair.

County Executive Jason Garnar said closing the third unit was necessary, to make sure residents wouldn’t be deprived of quality care.

But he added that the future of Willow Point is more uncertain as it continues to lose staff.

“At some point, that number gets so low that something’s got to give,” said Garnar. “And I’m afraid that we’re very, very close to that point. And there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.”

Last year, Broome County spent an extra $5 million just to keep Willow Point going. Garnar said closing this third unit means the nursing home will lose more money, making it even harder to pay competitive wages.

Willow Point Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Vestal. (Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo/WSKG)

Starting in 2022, Willow Point’s certified nursing assistants will get a $3 raise. But in a meeting with county legislators, Willow Point Administrator Ryan LaClair said the facility is still struggling to compete for staff.

“We’re seeing a lot of people leave for other employment opportunities,” said LaClair. “Right now, it appears that these disciplines are getting about six dollars more an hour elsewhere in the community, in other nursing homes.”

In the meantime, LaClair said the remaining staff are being stretched thin.

“The less and less staff we have, the more and more we’re expecting from the current staff,” said LaClair. “So, ‘hey, you worked 60 hours this week? Great, can you work 68?’”

Garnar said though staffing shortages have been an issue for Willow Point for years, COVID-19 has exacerbated the situation. Just before the pandemic, he said the nursing home was doing better, financially and operationally.

“Our ratings had gone up for the first time in a long time. And we were really in a good spot moving forward,” said Garnar. “And this pandemic, it just kind of broke us.”

Willow Point will reduce its capacity. Garnar said the state of emergency declaration will allow more flexibility for the county to deal with staffing shortages. A rapid response team has also been put together to help address the issue.