BEDFORD — The Bedford County Nursing Home has put a temporary freeze on accepting new patients while county officials address a critical nursing staffing shortage at the facility.

Bedford County Nursing Home Administrator Sue Ellen Clark told the Bedford County Board of Supervisors on Monday the nursing home at 1229 County Farm Road, which has a 90-bed capacity, currently has 85 residents. Clark said the nursing home cannot accept new patients until some of the almost 50 available full- and part-time nursing positions have been filled.

“We had to put a temporary freeze on residents until we can address our staffing shortage,” Clark said. “With the staff we have right now, 85 is considered full.”

According to county staff reports, the nursing home currently employs 38 certified nursing assistants (CNAs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and registered nurses (RNs) and contracts an additional 22 nurses from outside agencies to supplement its staff. Clark said the facility has struggled with staffing shortages for the past several years.

“The Bedford County Nursing Home and a lot of other health care entities are facing a critical shortage of nursing staff,” Clark said. “We are almost officially in a wage war to recruit and retain staff.”

During its meeting Monday, the board unanimously approved a series of incentives to help fill the 23 full-time and 26 part-time openings at the nursing home. Incentives include a $500 sign-on bonus to full-time applicants and a $250 sign-on bonus to part-time applicants who successfully complete 90 days of employment; a $500 bonus to employees for referring a full-time applicant after the applicant completes 90 days of employment; a $100 bonus to recipients of the facility’s employee of the month program; and increasing the current shift differential for working second and third shifts from $1 an hour to $1.25 an hour.

During its June 10 meeting, the board of supervisors approved a critical staff pay incentive that provides a cash bonus for staff members who pick up open shifts when the number of CNAs or LPNs fall below a safe level. Through the incentive program, a CNA picking up an open shift would receive a $75 bonus and a LPN would receive an additional $100.

“This is five incentives all together,” Davis said. “However, that is the name of the game now. We have to get out there and compete to fill these spots.”

District 6 Supervisor Andy Dooley said the board of supervisors needs to meet with nursing home staff during its next work session in July to discuss any additional action that may be needed to address the shortage.

“I would like to hear more about the history of this problem and talk about it some more,” Dooley said. “If we are not able to get a better handle on this what are we going to do down the road?”

Also during Monday’s meeting, the board of supervisors unanimously approved two special-use permit requests from Verizon Wireless to construct two monopole wireless communication towers in Huddleston. Verizon is proposing a 195-foot-tall monopole at 12253 Smith Mountain Lake Parkway and an 80-foot-tall monopole at 16538 Smith Mountain Lake Parkway to enhance cellular service in the area.

Several Huddleston residents attended Monday’s meeting to voice concerns about how the towers would affect their property values if constructed adjacent to their property.

“I would have never bought my home if I knew a tower was going to go up where I could see it,” one resident said during the meeting. “And no one is going to buy a piece of land with a tower next to it if I wanted to sell.”

District 2 Supervisor Tommy Scott said he supported approving the special-use permit because the towers will provide better cellular service to residents in the Huddleston area.

“People in that area are screaming for better cellular and internet services,” Scott said. “That is the number one thing we here from citizens out there. I understand you don’t want something built by you but these towers have to go somewhere if the residents are going to get the service they want.”

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Shannon Keith covers Bedford County for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5530.

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