For long-term care professionals, COVID-19 has been especially challenging. When the novel virus first hit, nothing could have prepared us for what was to come.
We, and the residents we are charged with caring for, have been tested in unimaginable ways and our dedicated caregivers have tirelessly and bravely fought to protect those in harm’s way. We are drained of our emotions from grieving the lives we’ve lost and rejoicing with those whose lives we’ve saved.
While we have made great progress in implementing and executing protocols to protect our staff and residents, the fight against COVID-19 is far from over.
We cannot let our guard down as long as this vicious virus lurks, and to prepare for unknown threats to come. COVID-19 quickly exposed the cracks in our society and healthcare system, especially those in the long-term care sector — where our predominantly minority workforce is paid less than a living wage to care for our most vulnerable citizens.
As we look to the future, we must apply the hard lessons of the past several months for the betterment of our residents, our staff and our sector.
Those lessons have positioned us today to be one of the safest sectors in all of healthcare.
First, we have implemented more stringent infection protocols which have proven successful, and will guide us going forward. Second, we are routinely testing all staff and residents, which is unlike any other setting of care. Third, with the support of our government payors, we are seeing vast improvement in accessing personal protective equipment (PPE) and working to establish a three-month supply of vital protective gear.
Finally, it is a moral imperative that we do our utmost to support and further appreciate our frontline staff by establishing a quality job that pays a living wage and allows for opportunity to grow in a long-term career.
In the beginning of the pandemic, testing, PPE and funding support was slow in arriving. This was true across the country. Subsequently, the federal and state governments have made major investments, which allowed facilities to better secure PPE and to pay hero wages to our deserving staff.
It is an undeniable fact that proper federal and state support before and during COVID-19 is essential to establishing better healthcare outcomes for our residents and staff. This support must continue in order to ensure the safety and well-being of our residents, their families and caregivers, as well as the stability of the sector.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, older Americans — those 65 and above — will make up 21 percent of the population by 2030, up from 15 percent in 2018. By 2034, the same demographic is projected to outnumber children for the first time in history.
As baby boomers reach retirement, many will turn to some form of long-term care for their healthcare needs.
To preserve the variety of long-term care options, Washington must ensure that Medicaid reimbursement rates adequately reflect the cost of care. Medicaid is the primary payer for nursing home residents, but the reimbursements nursing home operators receive, typically fall far short of the expense of proper care.
This perennial gap in funding threatens the stability of our industry.
By fully funding Medicaid, nursing homes would be better equipped to serve their residents by hiring more staff, and paying higher wages to attract and retain the best caregivers America has to offer. We could make investments in our facilities, such as single occupancy rooms, that would further strengthen infection control procedures and offer residents additional privacy and dignity.
We know what is possible when long-term care leaders, lawmakers, and other stakeholders work together. Massachusetts is a good example. Gov. Baker and state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle heeded our call and stepped in to help us fight COVID-19.
Emergency funding enabled us to secure PPE, implement widespread and routine testing, pay hero wages and fill staffing vacancies. This resulted in dramatic declines in mortality rates and infection rates for nursing home residents.
From Beacon Hill to Capitol Hill, bipartisan cooperation will propel this aspect of our healthcare system forward — one that any one of us might look to in our hour of need — in ways that will better protect, care for, and enhance, the lives of residents and protect our staff.
Our world may never be the same, but with proper support we can ensure the safety, care and well-being of our nursing home residents, their families and caregivers.