Nursing homes in Pa., hit hard by pandemic, seek American Rescue Plan funding

Providers’ groups say many long term care homes are on the brink of closure.

By Brett Sholtis

Carmela Sileo, left, and Susan McEachern sit next to each other and talk in the dayroom Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, at Arbor Springs Health and Rehabilitation Center in Opelika, Ala.

Julie Bennett / AP Photo

Carmela Sileo, left, and Susan McEachern sit next to each other and talk in the dayroom Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, at Arbor Springs Health and Rehabilitation Center in Opelika, Ala.

(Harrisburg) — As ​American Rescue Plan money makes its way to Pennsylvania, nursing and assisted living homes are asking the state general assembly for about $450 million to offset COVID-19 related costs.

Speaking to the state Senate Aging & Youth Committee, Pennsylvania Health Care Association President Zach Shamberg said costs from testing, protective equipment and bonus pay to employees for working during the pandemic has some nursing homes on the brink of closure.

Shamberg said the need to invest in nursing homes was clear even before the pandemic. He pointed to a 2019 report from then-Auditor General Eugene DePasquale called “Who will care for mom and dad?

That report, a follow-up to a 2016 audit, warned of a looming workforce shortage and recommended that providers raise wages “to family-sustaining levels” and increase benefits.

Shamberg said this problem is made worse by “stagnant Medicaid rates” and called on the state Senate to provide resources and change some regulations to help.

“We can ensure providers can invest in the men and the women on the front lines with better wages, incentives and benefits, but that’s going to require the appropriate investment from state government first,” Shamberg said.

COVID-19 testing was one particularly high-cost area, said Anne Henry, a senior vice president at LeadingAge PA, which represents nonprofit senior housing providers.

Henry said service providers were mandated to regularly test residents, but in many cases insurers refused to pay for those tests.

“Unfortunately some of those denials for bills for tests that were for many months ago are just being received by facilities, and those tests can range from five to six figures per month,” Henry said.

She said providers are seeking $396 million for long term care facilities and $54 million for personal care and assisted living facilities.

While nursing homes got a lot of attention, personal care and assisted living homes often were overlooked throughout the pandemic, said Pennsylvania Assisted Living Association Executive Director Margie Zelenak.

Zelenak said the providers she represents are struggling to hire and keep employees.

“When McDonald’s in Butler is offering a $500 bonus to come and work at McDonald’s, why are you going to go to a personal care and assisted living community?” Zelenak said to state Senate committee members.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data show nursing assistants in Pennsylvania have a mean salary of $15.65 per hour.

 

 


Brett Sholtis
Brett Sholtis

Brett Sholtis is a health reporter for WITF/Transforming Health. Sholtis is the 2021-2022 Reveal Benjamin von Sternenfels Rosenthal Grantee for Mental Health Investigative Journalism with the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism. His award-winning work on problem areas in mental health policy and policing helped to get a woman moved from a county jail to a psychiatric facility. Sholtis is a University of Pittsburgh graduate and a Pennsylvania Army National Guard Kosovo campaign veteran.

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