Staff retention key for state’s master plan on aging

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(The Center Square) – The deadline for the Pennsylvania’s 10-year master aging plan falls on Thursday, just in time for Gov. Josh Shapiro’s second budget address.

Ways to keep seniors connected to each other, live independently and find quality care homes when necessary will be among the issues it addresses, but few problems loom larger than labor shortages.

The Pennsylvania Association of Health Care said nursing staff turnover at residential care homes has steadily risen since early 2021. The harbinger warns of what policymakers have called the state’s “silver tsunami,” when the senior population grows faster than working-age residents can support – physically and financially.

Zach Shamberg, the association’s president and CEO, said the conditions make it necessary for Shapiro to adopt its incentive-based funding framework so that facilities that consistently maintain staff and care quality will receive more state support.

“This is not a typical state budget request for more funding with no strings attached,” he said. “This is not an ask for a handout. This is an essential industry joining together and saying, ‘make a commitment to invest in high-quality senior care and reward us when we earn it.’ Why wouldn’t state leaders want to see more accountability for state dollars?”

The framework, dubbed ecwip, ties $100 million in state funding to measurements that consider the percentages of long-stay residents that experience major falls or pressure ulcers; those with worsening activities of daily living; and total nursing staff turnover rate.

The association said the system will benefit centers disproportionately reliant on Medicare reimbursements. In Ohio, one of 24 states with a similar program, statewide care averages improved 34% since 2020.

“We must all step up to enhance care and meet the growing demand of caring for our aging population,” Shamberg said. “And that includes funding this critical need.”

The Department of Aging declinedn Tuesday to comment on the proposal, but the state itself has been vocal about its efforts to reduce turnover and improve residential care. In December, 127 facilities across 43 counties received a share of a $14.2 million federal grant meant to boost staff retention.

The problem isn’t unique. When it comes to nursing homes, federal data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services shows that capacity has declined since 2019. A recent report from the state Independent Fiscal Office warned that Pennsylvania lost 23 nursing homes since 2019 and the number of beds per 1,000 residents age 75 or older fell by almost 11%.

The IFO said that before the pandemic, staff at nursing homes and residential care facilities stood at 216,000; by 2023, the number of workers fell by 14% to 186,300.

The association warned back in March that about 2,000 people were on a waiting list for a bed, but staffing shortages were preventing some facilities from accepting anyone.

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