By Stephen B. Hanse
New York State has a long-standing tradition of taking care of our neediest residents. It’s part of who we are. For tens of thousands of elderly, frail and physically challenged New Yorkers – our parents, relatives, neighbors and friends – that care is provided in hundreds of skilled nursing facilities around the state, facilities that cannot survive without Medicaid funding.
As elected officials and policymakers in New York work to address huge Medicaid funding shortfalls, they need to recognize that long-term care facilities are not what is driving Medicaid spending increases.
In fact, the opposite is true: Over the past dozen years, long-term care providers have seen funding cuts of nearly $1.9 billion, including nearly $800 million in cuts over the past six fiscal years. Eleven years have passed since these care providers have received any cost of living increase, even as employee wages and health care expenditures, and food and utility costs have continued to rise.
So it is no surprise that New York now leads the U.S. in the Medicaid shortfall, the difference between the amount Medicaid reimburses providers and the actual cost of providing care in skilled nursing facilities. We have been struggling financially for years – and we simply cannot absorb more cuts.
Most of our long-term care facilities are operating close to capacity, and our residents are coming to us with greater medical and other care needs than in the past.
Some 70% of our spending is on wages and employee benefits. Like all good employers, we want to be able treat our workers fairly and pay them competitively. But Medicaid funding cuts have hindered our ability to increase compensation. That’s why we are losing both current and potential employees to other jobs where they can earn similar pay without the stress of providing direct care to high-needs populations.
Some nursing homes and assisted living providers may have no choice but to close their doors. The loss of these institutions would be devastating not just for the New Yorkers who depend on them for care right now, but also for those who will need skilled nursing services in the future. As the population ages in New York and across the country, some of us will inevitably require long-term institutional care, but what if there are simply not enough remaining facilities and employees to provide it?
It has been said that to care for those who once cared for us is one of life’s greatest honors. Skilled nursing and assisted living facility employees across New York State play this honorable and indispensable role every day, enriching the lives of the elderly and frail residents we serve and providing peace of mind for their loved ones.
Care and commitment are important, but they are not enough. Long-term care facilities need their fair share of Medicaid funding, and New York’s elected leaders must look elsewhere for budget cuts.
Stephen B. Hanse is president and CEO of the New York State Health Facilities Association and the New York State Center for Assisted Living.