Garry Pezzano//July 7, 2022
Garry Pezzano//July 7, 2022
It’s been just over two years since the COVID-19 pandemic changed our world forever. Thankfully, life is beginning to resemble a return to normal for many, and it’s wonderful to see. Families are gathering. Businesses are building back. Mask mandates are ending. Our hospitals are operational again.
This isn’t the case, however, for Pennsylvania’s nursing homes.
Providing quality care for those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 continues to be an everyday struggle. The chronic underfunding of our nursing homes, coupled with the continued escalating costs of PPE, testing, wages and operational needs, has left many nursing homes and senior living communities with limited options – close, sell or limit capacity. That is why a meaningful investment in Medicaid is needed if our senior care communities are to not only survive but thrive.
Gov. Tom Wolf has historically ignored rising costs to provide nursing home care. While he has proposed a $91-million increase in funding in the 2022-23 state budget, it is tied to his administration’s misguided regulatory proposal to increase minimum staffing thresholds by 50%.
Unfortunately, the staffing requirements are unrealistic because nursing homes simply don’t have the funding to either attract potential workers or hire more employees. Even if they did, the workforce crisis, which is impacting many industries, severely limits their ability to fill positions. One-size-fits-all staffing requirements also fail to recognize that each nursing home is unique in terms of resident care needs and characteristics of the building, among other things.
Even if the governor’s funding proposal came without unrealistic ties, gross inequities in Medicaid funding for Pennsylvania nursing homes began long before the pandemic and have continued to escalate. The Medicaid reimbursement rate has remained nearly stagnant, rising only 1% for half of the commonwealth’s nursing homes in the 2018-2019 fiscal budget thanks to efforts by the Pennsylvania House and Senate to provide some relief.
A recent study commissioned by LeadingAge PA found that the Medicaid funding gap for Pennsylvania’s nursing homes nearly doubled from $631 million in 2017-18 to almost $1.2 billion in 2018-19. How would your family’s budget look if your household expenses doubled but not your salary? While this shortfall illustrates a point-in-time snapshot, this has been a devastating trend. Medicaid funding is intended to cover long-term care costs for those who can no longer afford to pay for it. As one of the oldest states in the nation, Pennsylvania’s nursing homes care for one of the largest Medicaid populations in America.
To begin addressing this inequity, LeadingAge PA is calling for state lawmakers to approve a $294-million increase in nursing home Medicaid rates in the 2022-23 state budget. Given the significant shortfalls in funding, it can only be considered a deposit in helping Pennsylvania’s nursing homes provide quality care and invest in their workforce. Without this, nursing homes will continue to reduce the number of beds they dedicate to Medicaid patients, and our commonwealth’s aging population will have limited access to quality care.
It’s time to finally address these issues in meaningful and lasting ways because our seniors deserve better.
Many Pennsylvanians have moved on from those dark days of the pandemic. For nursing homes, a great deal of work to overcome COVID-19 remains. It’s time to provide them with the support they so desperately need.
Garry Pezzano, EMBA, MS/CCC-SLP, FNAP, is the president and CEO of LeadingAge PA, a trade association representing more than 370 quality senior housing, health care, and community services across the commonwealth. These providers serve more than 75,000 older Pennsylvanians and employ over 50,000 dedicated caregivers.