New nurses to get $7,500 bonus to work at Westmoreland Manor

·3 min read

Sep. 18—Newly hired nurses will get a $7,500 bonus to sign on to work at Westmoreland Manor in Hempfield, which, like other care homes across the country, is plagued by staffing issues.

Nursing aides hired after Sept. 1 will be awarded a $4,000 bonus to work at the county-owned care facility. Commissioners approved the bonuses last week.

The hope is to remain competitve with similar payouts made by private nursing homes and other medical facilities to attract staff, according to commissioners.

"Everybody is stealing everybody. We're trying to be competitive," Commissioner Sean Kertes said.

Staffing levels at the Manor have remained at or above state guidelines, which require the facility have at least 2.7 nurses on duty for every resident at the nursing home, according to facility administrator Abby Testa Steele.

The Manor can accommodate up to 407 residents, but its population has declined since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Officials said that, for more than a year and as the pandemic raged, the Manor did not accept new residents. A third of the available beds were empty and only 272 residents lived at the Manor as of Thursday.

"We don't have the staff to take it to 407 residents. We're getting calls from other nursing homes who don't have space. There is a need for more beds," Commissioner Gina Cerilli Thrasher said. "We have to be able to get to full staffing, but right now we don't have the staff to do it."

A survey released this year by the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living found that more than 60% of nursing homes across the country have had to limit admissions because of staff shortages.

Meanwhile, sign-on bonuses have become an industry standard.

Staffing and occupancy levels at the Manor have fallen off over the past four years. A staff of 78 nurses and 153 nursing aides worked there

in 2018 when it was home to 393 residents. Alexis Bevan, Westmoreland County's human resources director, said the Manor now has a staff of 61 nurses and 36 nursing assistants. Bevan said the county wants to hire another 35 full-time nurses.

The county has attempted to increase its roster of nurses for the past two years. Signing bonuses were first implemented four years ago, when new hires received $5,000. Bonuses were increased in 2020 and last year, and commissioners authorized additional payments to existing staff to keep them on the county payroll.

Still, staffing remains a concern.

"With every facility in this market continuing to experience challenges, the Manor needs to be proactive to continue to have adequate staff to meet our residents' needs," Steele said.

The hiring initiative also includes the creation of 12 positions for nurses who are not currently on staff to take individual shifts at the Manor. Nurses, including those who work at other facilities, can be paid more than $45 an hour and work up to 1,000 hours a year at the Manor without formally serving as a full-time county employee.

Officials implemented the "self-scheduling" initiative last year.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich by email at rcholodofsky@triblive.com or via Twitter .