Reversing the trend of nursing home closures
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As of 2018, there were approximately 1.3 million Americans residing in nursing homes.  Nearly all of these cases required personal decisions from both the patient and their families. Providing permanent, long-term care is a significant financial investment and entrusting the care of a loved one to someone else is emotional for many.

Unfortunately, many of these families are now coping with a new problem when weighing their options: finding a quality nursing home may require sending their loved ones to facilities hundreds of miles away.

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As was discussed at length in a recent U.S. Senate Committee on Finance hearing focused on nursing home care, and detailed in corresponding press reports, facilities across rural America are facing financial hardships that are driving many to close their doors – forcing families to travel vast distances to find an adequate facility that offers the quality of care their loved ones require.

Not only does this phenomenon hurt families who may not be able to visit loved ones as frequently as they would like, but it is a significant point of stress for patients who are often in their most vulnerable state.

Most of the closed nursing homes in rural America “have collapsed for financial reasons,” according to reporting on the topic.  One of the main causes of this is insufficient Medicare and Medicaid funding in the skilled nursing profession. 

Medicaid is the funding source for roughly 63 percent of nursing home patients and 19 percent of assisted living residents, but there is no federal law that requires state Medicaid programs to reimburse facilities for the cost of care – which leads to the inability to meet operating costs, such as hiring skilled nurses who can provide quality care to patients.

In Iowa, for instance, there are more than 400 nursing homes that accept patients through Medicaid and Medicare, but meager budgets are forcing these facilities to close and leaving their patients with few options to receive the care they need to live out their final days with dignity.  And for the facilities that are able to keep their doors open, patients are underfunded by an average of $30 per day, or more than $10,000 per year.

Families and seniors making the decision to seek-out long-term care are going through a lot. Fear of a facility closing should not be an added point of stress.

Nursing homes across the United States are determined to provide quality care for patients, but the lack of Medicaid funding for these facilities is holding us back. 

If we want to see this devastating trend come to an end, Congress and the administration need to take an earnest look how these facilities are funded and make appropriate investments in long-term care.

Mark Parkinson is president and CEO of the American Health Care Association, the nation’s largest association of long term and post-acute care providers. He is the former governor of Kansas and previously developed and operated multiple assisted living, dementia, and skilled nursing facilities in Kansas.