By Dave Fidlin | The Center Square
Pennsylvania’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities are grappling with increased costs and stagnant revenue, industry officials shared at a recent legislative committee.
As talks on the state’s budget progress, members of the House Aging and Older Adults Services Committee recently took testimony from advocates and workers within the industry. Worker shortages and fiscal constraints were the primary issues of concern.
Lawmakers on the committee, in both parties, said they take the issue of funding state-licensed long-term care facilities seriously and pledged to take the feedback into account as budget deliberations pick up steam.
Rep. Eric Nelson, R-Hempfield, said he viewed the funding issue as “complex” as broader, across-the-board decisions are factored into the equation.
“Prioritization is going to be key … as we establish how we’re going to move forward,” Nelson said. “We have to establish an order.”
Rep. Pam DeLissio, D-Philadelphia, offered stronger commentary and said she viewed the challenges facing the state-licensed facilities as dire and in urgent need of remedy.
“In Pennsylvania, we’ve messed this up,” DeLissio said. “We react to the lowest common denominator. We legislate to the lowest common denominator, and we’ve got to stop doing that.”
Future funding allocations, DeLissio said, need to be “flexible and creative.”
“I am really, really laser-focused on getting this right,” DeLissio said.
Yetta Timothy, a certified nursing assistant, was among the speakers who offered up testimony to the House committee.
When she entered the profession nearly two decades ago, Timothy said she worked in an environment that had a ratio of about one assistant to every 10 residents in an assisted-living facility.
More recently, as funding cuts and chronic staffing shortages have been commonplace, Timothy said the ratio has about doubled to one assistant for every 20 residents.
“Aides have no real sense of assignment,” Timothy said, depicting a typical day at work. “We go from floor to floor, just trying to hold things together.”
Timothy and other speakers frequently used the word “crisis” to describe the condition of the state-regulated facilities.
Peppering his talk with statistics, Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the organization Pennsylvania Health Care Association, implored lawmakers to make funding increases.
Shamberg said Pennsylvania is the third highest in the nation with residents age 65 and up and ranks fourth for residents age 85 and up.
Anne Henry, chief operating officer of the PHCA, said the challenges for the industry are becoming so pronounced that numerous facilities are facing reorganization, bankruptcy or takeovers from other companies.
“We’re really at a crisis point,” Henry said as she discussed some of the losses long-term care facilities have been racking up in recent years.
As a general rule of thumb, Matt Yarnell, president of SEIU Healthcare, said assisted-living facilities should have a staffing ratio of one caregiver for every four residents.
“It’s not some number we pulled out of the sky,” Yarnell said, pointing out the recommendation is research-based. “As Pennsylvanians, we need to find out how to do better.”