Long-term care needs long-term solutions
Mothers, fathers, grandmas and grandpas, these are the people in our long-term care facilities. For the past 19 months, they and the millions of front-line heroes who have watched over them night and day have been at the center of this once-in-a-century public health crisis.
Thanks to safe and effective vaccines, we’ve made considerable progress in our fight against COVID-19. While there is still a long road ahead, there is an important lesson we’ve learned: When long-term care has the support of federal and state governments, positive outcomes are achieved.
We appreciate the Department of Health and Human Services allocating a new round of funding from the Provider Relief Fund to nursing homes and assisted-living communities. Our providers continue to spend billions of dollars on ongoing staff support, personal protective equipment and testing to keep residents and staff safe as the pandemic persists. This much-needed funding will help offset these costs and ensure providers are able to keep their doors open.
While this funding is necessary, it’s only a short-term remedy. The pandemic has spurred two crises within the long-term care industry that threaten access to care for current and future residents. Today long-term care facilities are facing a severe workforce crisis and many are in dire financial straits. Fixing these crises requires proactive, forward-thinking solutions from the public sector. Lawmakers must invest in long-term care for the sake of our nation’s most vulnerable and their caregivers.
Even prior to the pandemic, workforce recruitment and retention has been a persistent challenge in long-term care. But right now, it’s the worst it has ever been. A new survey of providers reveals that nearly every nursing home and assisted-living community in the U.S. is experiencing a staffing shortage. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nursing homes and other residential care facilities have lost 380,000 employees since February 2020, and while other sectors are recovering, long term care has shed jobs every month except one since the pandemic began.
Caregivers at long-term facilities are burned out. Like many other private industries, they can’t find workers to fill vacant positions. But unlike private industries that can adjust their productivity or take a little longer to serve a meal, long-term care facilities cannot skip a beat on resident care 24 hours a day. If they don’t have the caregivers they need, they must limit the number of residents they can serve. Nearly 60% of nursing homes are halting new patient admissions and some are even closing their doors because of these workforce challenges.
The pandemic also spurred an economic crisis in long-term care, especially since these facilities had limited resources prior to the crisis. Chronic Medicaid underfunding is the crux of financial challenges that plague too many nursing homes. Most residents rely on Medicaid for their care, but the program fails to reimburse providers for the actual cost of providing care. This ongoing discrepancy, coupled with the high, ongoing costs of fighting COVID-19 and fewer new admissions, have resulted in a massive economic crisis.
More than half of nursing homes and nearly half of assisted-living communities are operating at a loss, and only one-quarter are confident they will last one year or more. Without government support, approximately 1,800 nursing homes could shut their doors for good. This is detrimental to seniors and individuals with disabilities, who require around-the-clock care but may live in communities with few other care options.
The budget reconciliation bill is an opportunity for members of Congress to pass solutions that will help long-term care residents and staff. With the full support of our leaders on Capitol Hill, we can improve their quality of life. We can make the investments necessary to ensure that our seniors today and those that we’ll care for in the future will have access to the high-quality care they deserve. The Care For Our Seniors Act offers several immediate and long-term solutions that will help us achieve this. The Biden Administration has signaled a desire to increase funding for home and community-based healthcare workers, but our nursing home workers also deserve additional support.
Our elderly loved ones took care of us, and now it’s our turn to take care of them. It’s time to stop putting bandages on our long-term care system and implement permanent solutions. When we emerge from the pandemic, let’s not return to business as usual. The reconciliation package is the perfect opportunity for lawmakers to show their commitment to our seniors and front-line caregivers by dedicating proper resources coupled with meaningful reforms that will strengthen our healthcare sector. We can create a safer and brighter future for our nation’s seniors as well as rewarding, better-paying jobs to caregivers. Let’s work together to get the job done.