OPINION: Enough scapegoating — Long-term care workers need support to succeed

Published 6:23 am Friday, December 31, 2021

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By Mark Parkinson

There is nothing more important to long-term care providers than ensuring every resident receives the quality care they deserve. The battle against COVID-19 has demonstrated this time and again. Despite repeated calls for help being often ignored, providers have fought every day for the essential resources needed to protect our residents and staff.
In the face of incredible obstacles, long-term care staff stepped up to provide life-saving aid and become like family to our residents. Unfortunately, not only have our frontline heroes received no credit, we continue to be a convenient punching bag for many groups who have an inherent bias against our profession.
There is no question: When we make mistakes, we should be scrutinized. The care of our vulnerable residents is so important that we should be called out when we fall short. But now is the time to set aside unfounded criticism and for providers, policymakers and consumer organizations to work together to tackle the core issues, like the industry’s labor crisis and chronic underfunding.
Long-term care leaders have already taken proactive steps to be part of the solution. Earlier this year, the American Health Care Association (AHCA) and LeadingAge proposed the Care for Our Seniors Act, a comprehensive reform package that will help build a robust, quality long-term care system to prevent future crises and strengthen nursing home care.
Meaningful reform begins with understanding the current state of the industry. Today, long-term care facilities are still facing an uphill battle, as longstanding economic and workforce crises have worsened in the wake of the pandemic. Providers continue to spend tens of billions to fight the virus and protect vulnerable long-term care residents. As a result, more than 1,800 facilities could permanently close over the course of the pandemic.
Nearly every nursing home and assisted living community is currently experiencing a staffing shortage. The shortage is so severe that many facilities have been forced to limit admissions, leaving vulnerable seniors and individuals with disabilities without the care they need. In recent weeks, Minnesota and New York have activated the National Guard to provide staffing support to nursing homes in their states. Current data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that nursing homes are facing the worst job loss among all health care providers. Since the beginning of the pandemic, nursing homes have lost 234,000 jobs.
Yet amid these circumstances, policymakers are offering proposals that will make these crises worse. The Build Back Better Act includes unfunded staffing mandates that, while well-intentioned, will be nearly impossible for nursing homes to fulfill without additional funding and support. Media outlets are closely examining the survey inspection process and ownership structure of facilities, but ignoring the proposals that leaders in the long-term care profession have offered to address the very concerns raised in those stories.
When they were needed most, our long-term care heroes stepped up for our nation’s seniors. Now, it’s time for those in positions of power to do the same. We encourage policymakers, regulators and the media to focus on what will truly improve our nation’s nursing homes. We need bold solutions that finally address the challenges our industry has been calling attention to for years.
Everyone deserves to live their golden years with dignity, and with a growing elderly population, ensuring we have a quality long-term care system should be a top priority for our country. Access to care for millions of vulnerable seniors is at stake.

Mark Parkinson is the president and CEO of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living and the former governor of Kansas. This column originally published in The HIll.