International nurses could ease long-term care's staffing shortages

Immigrants could increase staff ratios and reduce staff shortages in nursing homes, according to a paper published in February by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Immigrant groups already make up about 1 in 5 direct care workers, in addition to approximately 19 percent of certified nursing assistants, 16 percent of licensed practical nurses and 20 percent of registered nurses in nursing homes. Increasing the number of immigrant workers would improve patient care in nursing homes, particularly those in rehabilitation, according to the paper's authors.

"Increases in the immigration population result in improved nursing home direct care staffing levels, particularly among full-time staff, with little impact on industry wages or the skill mix of direct care staff," study authors David Grabowski, PhD, of Cambridge, Mass.-based Harvard University, Brian McGarry, PhD, of the University of Rochester (N.Y.) and Jonathan Gruber, PhD, of Boston-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology wrote. 

However, hiring immigrant workers comes with a few caveats, according to the paper. It can take more time to hire immigrants as their passports and other documents can take months to process. The researchers also said facilities should not prioritize less-educated or skilled workers over higher-skilled registered nurses or licensed practical nurses.

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