Commentary

Wolf, lawmakers need to release pandemic relief funds to nursing homes next | Opinion

While hospitals are battling front-line issues now, the trouble for nursing homes started long before the pandemic

Yetta Timothy, a 27-year veteran certified nursing assistant, speaks on the Capitol steps at a rally to increase nursing home staffing on March 26, 2021. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

By Bob Bertolette

While we applaud the proposed investment in hospital front-line health care workers announced this week by the Pennsylvania General Assembly, nursing homes continue to be Ground Zero for the pandemic. Our members’ staff, residents, and their families continue to reel under the pressure of the pandemic and its impact on our most vulnerable Pennsylvanians.

A lack of funding is creating a harrowing trend we’ve pointed out repeatedly during the pandemic: High-quality, nonprofit nursing homes are closing or being forced to sell to out-of-state corporations. This month, the Jewish Home of Greater Harrisburg joined the list. Since 2020, nursing homes in Pittsburgh, Erie, Allentown, and Berks and Montgomery counties have closed or sold.

$225M in federal COVID-19 relief slated for Pa. health care workers

While hospitals are battling front-line issues now, the trouble for nursing homes started long before the pandemic.

Homes rely on Medicaid to care for residents who can no longer afford to pay for their care. Pennsylvania’s Medicaid reimbursement rates have been routinely flat-lined in state budgets. In 2017 alone, Pennsylvania nursing homes suffered a staggering $631-million shortfall. Facilities used to rely on their Rainy Day funds to cover the shortfall, but the pandemic has drained these accounts.

Hospital care during COVID-19 makes headlines, but nursing homes cannot be forgotten. Lawmakers and the Wolf administration must release emergency funding – and provide a robust increase in Medicaid funding in the upcoming 2022-23 fiscal budget. Without this, history shows more nursing homes will close their doors.

Bob Bertolette is the interim president and CEO of LeadingAge PA, an industry trade group. He writes from Mechanicsburg, Pa.

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