WASHINGTON, DC — For the second spring in a row, Washington, DC, is blanketed not by delicate cherry blossoms but by bold and inescapable messaging on a nursing home staffing mandate.

The American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living is targeting insiders, influencers and federal lawmakers with a series of ads meant to underscore the nursing home sector’s inability to staff up to the requirements of the new Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services rule.

“It’s not too late to find a better way. Washington: Don’t require. Help us hire,” prompts one ad running in Axios.

The “Save our Seniors” messages, also being featured in Politico and The Washington Post, are designed to get key themes in front of decision-makers just as hundreds of long-term care providers are taking to the Hill as part of the annual AHCA Congressional Briefing.

The ads also provide an important counter to the efforts of AARP, which last week announced it was launching its own ad campaign and commissioning a city-roving, truck-mounted billboard to share its viewpoint that efforts to repeal the weeks-old mandate are “shameful.”

In the last several weeks, AARP members have sent 160,000 emails to their representatives.

They want higher staffing standards, and in a press event last week highlighted the “tragic consequences” of having poorly staffed facilities.

While continuing its fight against the mandate itself, AHCA continues to concede nursing homes need more workers. President and CEO Mark Parksinon has been dutifully tracking and sharing nursing home workforce shortages — as measured by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics — throughout the pandemic. 

Monday, he noted those stats still show a reduction of 120,400 jobs since COVID’s start. Those are positions that need to be filled to get back to baseline; the latest AHCA estimates show a need for 102,000 additional new RNs and CNAs as a result of the mandate.

Where will those combined 222,000 workers come from?

That’s part of the theme here this week, one echoed prominently in the latest DC ads.

“A federal staffing mandate won’t fix the labor crisis.” AHCA is telling Politico readers.

Those who follow links to AHCA’s Save our Seniors platform will get a healthy dose of proactive advocacy, with calls to invest in frontline workers and build a nursing pipeline with added resources. The association encourages policymakers to strengthen training and education programs, provide tuition-paid scholarships to nursing students and embrace “innovative models that encourage more entry-level, non-clinical positions.”

This time last year, the SEIU was plastering stickers endorsing an as-yet-unproposed mandate all over the city; AHCA ran ads encouraging policymakers to back off the Biden administration priority.

Rep. Katherine Clark

In the battle over the mandate that’s unfolded since then, advocates on various sides of the issue have struggled to find compromise. In that same time period, Congress has itself grown less inclined to work together to hammer out  bipartisan solutions to issues before it.

Make no mistake: Offering lawmakers ways to move forward on nursing home staffing — a way to encourage growth in the sector rather than undermine it further with an unfunded mandate — is a targeted strategy.

But as House Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-MA) told an audience here Tuesday, influencing change is part of the fabric of representational government.

“We come in compromise and make a better product because we do it together. Some of these ideals are slipping away from us,” Clark said. “Let’s all push back on those who say solutions should be put aside and go back to dividing and politicking through fear. Let’s get back to saying compromise, bipartisanship, putting the American people’s voice first.”

Where those ads land, maybe there will be hope for a staffing mandate fix after all.

Kimberly Marselas is senior editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.