Last week, bipartisan legislation was introduced in the Washington State Senate and House of Representatives to address a nursing home system crisis that has seniors who are ‘medically ready to discharge’ waiting in limbo in hospital beds because of staffing shortages in skilled nursing facilities.
Senate Bill 5526 and companion House Bill 1571 would address Medicaid reimbursement shortfalls fueling the nursing home system crisis in Washington. The sponsors are Senator Kevin Van De Wege (D-24) and his House colleague, Representative Steve Tharinger (D-24), and Senator Ron Muzzall (R-10) and Representative Paul Harris (R-17).
During a January 17, 2023, Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee work session on the current backlog of hospital patients awaiting discharge, many on the panel of hospital leaders identified inadequate skilled nursing facility Medicaid reimbursements as a key barrier to patient discharge.
“When my hospital is full, the entire community is impacted. There is no other place to go.” Mike Glenn, CEO of Jefferson Healthcare, reported to the committee. Jefferson Healthcare’s critical access hospital located in Port Townsend is the only hospital in the area and it has over 30,000 county residents who rely on it for medically urgent care.
“Last year, the Legislature adopted critically necessary policy to improve state Medicaid funds for skilled nursing facilities, and we are grateful. Unfortunately, the one-time policy actions do not continue beyond June 30, 2023,” according to WHCA President and CEO Carma Matti-Jackson. “This important bipartisan legislation builds on last year’s work by creating permanent structural fixes to the system and by targeting dollars to increase wages for workers who provide care.”
Medicaid insurance should pay for staff wages when skilled nursing services are provided to low-income beneficiaries. But the Department of Social and Health Services reports that system-wide, skilled nursing facilities were underpaid by $620 million over the last five years. Under these conditions, nursing homes are unable to hire and retain enough staff. Nurses, asked to provide quality care despite insufficient resources, are burning out and exiting the workforce. This has caused operators to reduce capacity to mitigate negative impacts on both residents and staff. Unstaffed, vacant nursing home beds create enormous backlogs for hospitals. Wait times have steeply risen for patients who cannot be discharged from the hospitals because they have nowhere to go.
“We want to acknowledge the legislators who are leading this work. There is a terrible human cost when there is no access to hospital or skilled nursing facility care,” according to Carma Matti-Jackson, CEO of Washington Health Care Association. “People suffer when they do not receive access to the right level of care at the right time. This legislation is a critical solution.”
Washington Health Care Association represents skilled nursing, assisted living, and enhanced services facilities statewide. Our 161 skilled nursing facility, 375 assisted living community, and nine enhanced services facility members employ over 50,000 people who provide support and care for Washington’s most vulnerable. For more information, visit www.whca.org.