Pa. is reopening, but the pandemic continues in nursing homes. We need help in the state budget | Opinion

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By Adam Marles

America is starting to reopen. It’s wonderful to see people reuniting with their loved ones after a year of isolation. Americans are traveling again. Sporting events, such as the recent PGA Championship and NBA playoffs, are welcoming packed crowds. The exuberance at these events is heartwarming and a testament to the miracle of modern science and medicine that produced the COVID-19 vaccine.

Here in Pennsylvania, more than half of all adults have been fully vaccinated. Vaccinations in all long-term care facilities, including nursing homes, personal care homes and assisted living residences have helped save lives. Our professional baseball teams will begin enjoying packed crowds for baseball in June. By any measure, we’re moving forward.

But it’s important for all Pennsylvanians, particularly Gov. To. Wolf, state lawmakers and policymakers, to understand that the pandemic will continue to be a threat to the commonwealth’s long term-care residents.

We are still dealing with a deadly virus every single day because our resident population continually changes, as does our workforce. The front-line workers in Pennsylvania’s nursing homes are nothing less than heroes, but long hours and the continued threat of virus spread make their jobs incredibly stressful.

That’s why state budget funding for nursing homes to battle this pandemic is so important as lawmakers prepare to finalize the commonwealth’s fiscal 2021-22 budget plan. Nursing homes, personal care homes and assisted living residences are still spending millions of dollars on mandatory, unfunded staff testing, PPE, supplies and new infrastructure necessary to protect our residents.

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Yet some want to move on as the rest of the commonwealth reopens. It’s important to note these pandemic funding needs exacerbate an already existing funding crisis that predates COVID-19. Medicaid funding has been largely flat-funded for about 15 years as the cost of health care has skyrocketed.

In 2019 alone, flat funding led to a $632 million loss that made nursing homes’ ability to maintain high quality care more difficult, not to mention retaining and attracting talented staff.

That’s why Gov. Wolf’s decision to propose flat funding for Pennsylvania’s nursing homes during the pandemic is devastating for our facilities, our front-line workers, residents and their loved ones. Our industry even had to file a lawsuit against the Wolf administration for withholding millions in federal funds designated for nursing home pandemic relief.

Think about that for a moment.

Imagine if you had a loved one in a Pennsylvania nursing home during this pandemic. A chronically underfunded industry charged with caring for – and protecting – your loved one is denied the federal support it was supposed to receive from the Wolf administration.

That same administration won’t even give you a modest increase in the commonwealth’s share of Medicaid dollars when every life is literally at risk. Nursing homes continue to accept new, unvaccinated residents. Some new employees are also unvaccinated. In our setting, the threat is real and will continue well into the future.

If you had a loved one in a nursing home, you would think this is the time for government to make historic investments in nursing homes – not flat fund them.

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But nursing homes aren’t even asking for such investments. They need $446 million for nursing home care, as well as personal care homes and assisted living. That certainly sounds like a lot, but it’s barely more than 1 percent of Gov. Wolf’s overall state budget spending request.

That bears worth repeating: Pennsylvania’s nursing home facilities, which continue to be ground zero of the pandemic, are only asking for barely more than 1 percent of Pennsylvania’s total proposed budget.

We’re happy that Pennsylvania is reopening. But Pennsylvania long-term care providers are still fighting against this pandemic every day and need help to continue to save lives — desperately.

We aren’t asking for help. We’re pleading. Sadly, and shockingly, it’s come to this.

Adam Marles is the president and CEO of LeadingAge PA, an industry trade group. He writes from Mechanicsburg, Pa. 

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Capital-Star Guest Contributor
Capital-Star Guest Contributor

The Pennsylvania Capital-Star welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation on how politics and public policy affects the day-to-day lives of people across the commonwealth.