There is good news in Connecticut, but hardly anyone is telling the story: our state’s nursing homes every day are delivering high quality care for almost 24,000 Connecticut residents. That nursing homes are doing so during a long period of state budget instability and staffing pressures is an even bigger story.
Unfortunately, many news outlets focus on isolated stories implying just the opposite is happening. A sensational story of a terrible failure in care is more newsworthy than the thousands of acts of quality and compassion that occur every day in the nursing homes across Connecticut. Connecticut nursing homes understand that it isn’t especially newsworthy when tens of thousands of our state’s elders and people with disabilities receive life sustaining services and rehabilitative care in their facilities every day. They get it’s hardly front page news when a high quality nursing home experience leads to a successful transition back home, but this is overwhelmingly what is happening.
However, when the negative is the focus, nursing home operators worry that the public is left with the impression that the majority of nursing homes are doing a terrible job taking care of Connecticut’s more frail residents, even though the opposite is true. This is a disservice if it discourages just one person from seeking the high quality care that Connecticut nursing homes are known for when it’s needed.
Sustaining high quality nursing home care when the population is aging and more complex requires increased resources. The public is often not aware that Connecticut Medicaid payments have for over 10 years lagged well behind inflation. For the 17,000 Medicaid recipients receiving care in Connecticut nursing homes, the current Medicaid rate formula provides reimbursement that is considerably less than actual cost of care. Factor in today’s competitive labor market where unemployment hovers around four percent, and one can see how nursing home operators face immense pressure to increase wages and benefits to their employees, which are essential if they are to recruit and retain a high quality workforce.
Important initiatives supported by former Gov. Dannel Malloy in recent years to boost the wages and benefits of nursing home workers were badly needed, but regrettably didn’t address a range of operational needs caused by a decade of funding shortfalls. Regrettably, Gov. Ned Lamont’s biennial budget recommendation eliminates essential inflationary Medicaid rate increases in the budget for nursing homes at a time when they are critically needed to address these issues.
Then too, today’s nursing home residents are older and have more complex care needs than the population of 20 years ago, but reimbursement systems haven’t kept pace with these changing dynamics. The incidence of Alzheimer’s disease are rising fast in Connecticut’s long-term care system. Nursing home residents presenting both with medical needs and substance-use disorder and other special needs in increasing numbers are presenting new challenges for Connecticut nursing homes.
Not only do Connecticut nursing homes and their hard working and dedicated staff receive little credit for the amazing work being done during difficult fiscal times, the operators and staff constantly endure the monthly news stories whenever care is short of what we all expect and a nursing home is fined.
When Connecticut nursing homes make mistakes, they deserve scrutiny. The care of the frail elderly, and for persons with disabilities is too important not to be called out when it falls short. But when operators are constantly called out, despite the great things happening every day, it masks an important story. The nursing home profession understands there is temptation to propose sweeping policy changes or one-size-fits-all regulations prompted by newspaper headlines that don’t tell the whole story. However, nursing home operators ask that state policy makers instead acknowledge that nursing home care will continue to be a critical, cost-effective and high quality component of our LTSS system. And that the high quality outcome everyone wants will require increased resources as our Connecticut population continues to age with greater health care needs.
Matthew V. Barrett, is the president and CEO of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities / Connecticut Center For Assisted Living.
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