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Letter to the Times: A CNA’s plea for increased staffing standards in Kansas nursing homes

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Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns and letters to the Times written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

Would you like to send a letter to the Times? Great! Here’s how to do it.

Starting my journey as a certified nurse aide (CNA) at age 15, I was brimming with hope and an earnest eagerness to make a difference, oblivious to the challenges and intricacies that lay ahead in this profession. I find myself at the heart of an agonizing dilemma.

My name is Addison Stover. I’m a 20-year-old biochemistry student at the University of Kansas on the pre-medical track, and I carry the weighty title of a CNA working within the walls of nursing homes. Today, I share my ardent plea — the desperate call to increase staffing standards in Kansas nursing homes.

On Sept. 1, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a proposed rule to increase staffing levels of both registered nurses and CNAs in long-term care facilities, including nursing homes.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has mercilessly laid bare the vulnerabilities of our health care system. The chronic shortage of staff has transformed our noble profession into a high-stakes gamble, where the odds are stacked against us, and the stakes are the well-being of Kansas nursing home residents. The burden on health care workers, especially those like me working in nursing homes, has reached an unprecedented level of stress. 

I want to continue my work as a CNA. It is not a career for the faint of heart, but it is coming down to the point where I wonder, “If not me, then who?” It’s not just a rhetorical question; it’s a plea for attention to an issue that affects us all. The scarcity of staff has compelled facilities to deploy CNAs with minimal training and experience into situations where the safety net of an experienced colleague or nurse is glaringly absent. They are doomed to fail. That failure manifests into resident falls, medication oversights, the development of bedsores and lapses in providing essential services like showers and bathroom trips.

Errors become an inevitable part of this equation. Mistakes, born not out of negligence but out of sheer exhaustion and absence of guidance, have the potential to cost dearly. These are not abstract consequences; they are the pain and suffering endured by our residents — your mothers, fathers, and grandparents.

As a CNA, my commitment to caring for older adults runs deep; the connections I’ve formed with your loved ones is invaluable. However, the shortage of staffing has forced us into a precarious balancing act between our genuine desire to provide compassionate care and the harsh reality of being stretched thin.

Kansas nursing homes are not bereft of skilled and compassionate individuals ready to dedicate their lives to the service of others, yet the shortage of staff jeopardizes the quality of care we can provide. Our community members deserve better than to be at the mercy of a system that struggles to provide them with the attention and expertise they require. 

Increasing staffing standards is not just a matter of ensuring job satisfaction for health care workers; it is a plea for the preservation of dignity and quality of life for nursing home residents. It is a plea for recognizing the vital role that CNAs play and providing them with the support they need to carry out their responsibilities effectively. Pay us well. Give us health insurance. Provide us opportunities to grow. Recognize our blood, sweat, and tears. Staff nursing homes appropriately! 

As I stand at the intersection of my academic goals and my role as a CNA, I must advocate for change. I implore policymakers, nursing home administrators, and the community at large to heed this call for increased staffing standards in Kansas nursing homes. Let us not wait until our health care heroes are stretched beyond the limits; let us act now to protect the well-being of nursing home residents and the integrity of those who care for them.

— Addison Stover (she/her), Lawrence, University of Kansas biochemistry student and Certified Nurse Aide

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