The COVID-19 pandemic has tested our nation. For long-term care providers, including nursing facilities and assisted living centers, the pandemic has exacerbated our chronic challenges of a severe caregiver shortage, inadequate government payment and for some, an antiquated building infrastructure. Through it all, our courageous, devoted and hardworking caregivers showed up for work every day to provide lifesaving care to our most vulnerable residents. They deserve our enduring admiration and thanks.
In Wisconsin, the members of the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) are currently considering Gov. Tony Evers’ proposed 2021-23 state budget. Their job is a difficult one, but one that is vitally important to all Wisconsinites. We thank them for their service. While there are some provisions in the proposed budget on which the governor and legislature disagree, we hope that two provisions pertaining to long-term care are not among them. On behalf of our facility residents, their families, loved ones and caregiving staff, we ask the JFC and members of the state legislature to support at a minimum, two long-term care proposals in the governor’s budget:
- A $241 million Medicaid payment increase for our nursing facilities
- A $77.8 million increase for the state’s Medicaid waiver managed care program, Family Care, via the Direct Care Workers Fund. This increase will provide great help to our assisted living centers and facilities that care for folks living with disabilities.
Our long-term care providers are at the forefront of serving the public good. They are also important contributors to the economic vitality of our local communities. Consider these facts:
- Our facilities currently care for almost 100,000 Wisconsinites across our great state. The population age 85 and older is projected to increase by 110% by 2040. These individuals most often require the critical care provided in Wisconsin’s nursing homes and assisted living centers. They deserve the absolute best care and support that we can offer.
- The long-term care community directly employs more than 85,000 people and is responsible for the employment of so many more people who provide goods and services to our facilities.
- Our long-term care community generates at least $1.25 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue annually.
Despite these impressive human and economic contributions to Wisconsin’s quality of life, the long-term care profession faces unprecedented challenges. Since 2016, 42 Wisconsin nursing facilities have had to close their doors. Since Jan. 1, 2019, more than 3,500 nursing facility beds have been taken out of service, representing a loss of more than 10% of the bed capacity in the state. At this rate, there will be a state-wide shortage of available beds by 2027.
We cannot allow this to happen. Wisconsin — and every other state — deserve quality long-term care facilities with convenient access across the state so families can readily visit their loved ones. States also need the jobs and economic contribution that our long-term care community provides.
John Sauer is the president and CEO and LeadingAge Wisconsin.
Rick Abrams is the president and CEO of the Wisconsin Health Care Association/Wisconsin Center for Assisted Living.