Staffing Shortages at Long Term Care Facilities May Not Recover Quickly
By Rick Delaney, Chairman of the Board
The annual average price of a semi-private room in a nursing home in 2020 was about $95,000 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. But that still wasn’t enough to ensure quality care. Long-term care facilities were pummeled by COVID-19, losing 200,000 residents and staff to the disease by January of this year, according to a report by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. Now, as the nation works to recover, the nursing home industry is dealing with rampant staff shortages affecting facilities in every state in the nation — posing ongoing risks to good quality, safe, long-term care.
Poor care has been associated with a host of adverse outcomes for residents, including bedsores, increased emergency department visits, hospitalization rates, and mortality. The issues have existed long before the pandemic. Both policymakers and Congress have debated long-term care staffing levels ever since federal requirements were established for nursing facilities to receive Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare covers only short-term rehabilitation care after hospital stays that meet certain qualifications. On the other hand, Medicaid covers long-term nursing home stays for those with incomes low enough to qualify. Everyone in between either must pay for pricey long-term care insurance coverage, or pay the full cost out-of-pocket — often impoverishing themselves and their surviving spouse in the process.
Recently, the Biden Administration announced new policies to address staffing shortages in long-term care facilities. Those policies include required minimum staffing levels, limiting the number of patients that can share one room, enhanced inspections, and penalties for facilities that don’t meet the standards, among other things. President Biden’s proposed reforms were reported by Kaiser Health News as amounting to the “biggest increase in federal nursing home regulation in nearly 40 years.” But as with all regulations, there are lots of questions that remain open, and actual changes may be months away as the regulations go through the public feedback process. The new proposal is already drawing stiff opposition from the nursing home industry, which says it would be unable to meet new staffing and oversight requirements without additional federal funding.
Someone turning age 65 today has almost a 70% chance of needing some type of long-term care services and supports over the course of a retirement. One resource for learning about long-term care options in your community is through your local Area Agency on Aging. You can quickly locate your local agency by doing a Google search for Area Agency on Aging for your zip code. You may also find planning help through workshops and programs at local senior centers, libraries, and lifelong learning centers.
To stay informed about legislation to improve long term care and home care benefits, make sure to check TSCL’s Weekly Update. Together, we can reset the priorities in Congress. Please take our new survey: https://seniorsleague.org/2022-senior-priority-plan/
Sources: “Nursing Facility Shortages During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Nancy Ochieng, Priya Chidambaram, Mary Beth Musumeci, Kaiser Family Foundation. “Biden Pledges Better Nursing Home Care, But He Likely Won’t Fast Track It,” Rachana Pradhan, Harris Myer, Kaiser Health News, March 3, 2022.