Guest Opinion: Idaho Nursing Facilities Facing Fiscal Crisis | Opinion

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At our skilled nursing facilities across the state, the care we provide to our residents is similar to the care we would provide to our own family members, and our residents are not just like family to us, they are a family. These are the family members of our communities in Idaho, your grandparents, your parents, your siblings and other members of the community. Our heroic caregivers provide physical and emotional care to our residents every day, and for the past two years they have risked their lives to do so during the pandemic, all with smiles on their faces and love in their hearts; but now, after two years of extraordinary care and service to our communities, our caregivers are mentally and physically exhausted.

Their burnout comes at a time when we desperately need them and more heroes to care for our elders, our families, our communities. Only 10% of our direct care staff are paid sufficient wages to afford the basic necessities for their family size.

“For too long, skilled healthcare workers have been neglected, overworked and underpaid,” said Robert Vande Merwe, executive director of the Idaho Health Care Association (IHCA).

In reaching out to these heroes, a social worker at a Treasure Valley facility summed it up for us…. “I’m exhausted and I don’t know how long I can do this. We are all working extra evening and weekend shifts because so many employees have left for better paying jobs. Fast-food chains pay their employees more to flip burgers than skilled nursing facilities can afford to pay dedicated, experienced, and compassionate employees who care deeply about residents and their families. The unprecedented demands of the past two years seem like a bad dream. I love the people I work with, we love the people we work with, but at some point we have to be able to take care of ourselves.

Establishments have raised wages and improved workplace practices and culture to try to retain workers.

“We cannot do this alone. Without the support of the Governor and Legislature, we don’t have the funds to pay the salaries our heroic caregivers expect and deserve. The vast majority of nursing facility funding comes from Medicaid and Medicare,” said Steve LaForte of Cascadia Healthcare, an Eagle-based Idaho company that operates twenty-two facilities in Idaho. LaForte continued, “Nursing facilities have not seen a Medicaid increase since 2020 and without action they will not see an increase in Medicaid rates until July 2023. The costs of staff, PPE, testing, food, and fuel all increased dramatically, but our Medicaid reimbursement rates remained flat. We need the help of our partners in government to continue to provide important and needed care to our families in Idaho.

It is not acceptable and it is not sustainable. We call on the Governor and Legislature to immediately increase the budget for skilled nursing facilities to enable facilities in Idaho to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in our society.

We appreciate the recognition our heroic staff has received from the public over the past two years. Now is the time for our policy makers to also recognize their heroic work. It is a public-private partnership in which we are all invested in the health care of our seniors, our families, our communities.