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Could Robots in Nursing Homes Be a Solution to the Staffing Crisis?

Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
Updated December 20, 2023
Edited by
    Nursing homes face a serious staffing shortage. Two nursing homes are testing care robots as a possible solution.
    Nurse helping elderly patient in nursing home with tabletCredit: Getty Images/Maskot
    • Nearly all nursing homes currently face staffing shortages.
    • In an Ohio pilot program, robots care for residents at two nursing homes.
    • Ongoing research is investigating the use of robots in assisted living facilities.

    The nursing home staffing crisis is a major problem for the healthcare system. In fact, 99% of nursing homes reported staffing shortages in a 2021 American Health Care Association survey. As the population continues to age, the problem may grow much worse.

    Are robots the answer to the nursing home staffing shortage? Two Ohio nursing homes are already using care robots to automate care in a unique pilot program.

    While chronic understaffing at nursing homes is a dangerous problem, the use of robot caregivers raises practical and ethical questions for the nursing home industry.

    Ohio Nursing Homes Test Robots to Address Staffing Shortage

    Robots can’t replace humans. But they can assist care providers in nursing homes. That’s the goal at two Akron-area nursing homes, which recently introduced robots named Eva and Rosie to address staffing shortages.

    The robots perform tasks such as delivering packages, cleaning food trays, and delivering meals. “The joy on the faces of the residents when Rosie comes to work is immeasurable,” said Amanda Huffman, administrator at The Village of St. Edward in a press release.

    The pilot program, coordinated with the Direction Home Akron Canton Area Agency on Aging & Disabilities, will test the usefulness of care robots.

    In the early phase of the pilot program, the robots completed more than 2,200 deliveries to residents. However, Eva and Rosie are not meant to replace human contact. Still, the robots can relieve the caregiver duties of human employees.

    “I do not know how we would function without our robot at this point,” Kathryn Bartley, administrator of Copley Health Center, said in the press release.

    Study: Care Robots in Assisted Living Facilities

    An aging population plus a staffing shortage puts pressure on long-term care facilities. And that can leave residents vulnerable.

    In addition, the nursing home crisis goes beyond staffing shortages at individual facilities — since 2020, nearly 600 nursing homes have closed. Care robots could potentially relieve the pressure caused by the staffing crisis.

    But many questions about the use of care robots remain unanswered. What services can robots safely provide? How will the introduction of robots affect nurses and other staff? And what are the limits of robots in caregiving roles?

    A 2023 study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research revealed the need for additional research on the usefulness of robots in assisted living facilities. In particular, prior research has not focused on how robots will affect the work environment and care in these settings.

    The study recommended additional research on the consequences of care robots for older adults and caregivers to meet the growing demand for quality care.

    Ohio’s pilot program, which will run through 2024, may provide valuable feedback for future programs across the country. And while nursing home administrators report that Eva and Rosie have improved care for residents, robots may not be a viable solution for the staffing crisis.