Victory laps are hard to come by when you’re a long-term care provider. That’s why when they arrive, it’s worth taking at least two trips around the track.

Welcome to the current, giddy position that long-term care providers in Pennsylvania, their advocates and lobbyists find themselves in right now. In brief, they won the figurative state-funding lottery and now everyone else wants to know how they can too.

Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, signed into law the vital legislation that the Republican-led legislature formally approved. As we reported, the windfall is breathtaking: a 17.5% hike in Medicaid pay rates, or about $35 per patient day.

Can it happen elsewhere? Absolutely, believes Zach Shamberg, the president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association. There are two major keys, he believes.

First, the assembly of unorthodox partnerships. Second, aggressive involvement by providers themselves. 

Being “vocal, visible and valuable” to the outside world turns heads and changes minds, as it turns out.

“The lawmakers we got to the table became our biggest advocates. It was pretty incredible to see develop,” Shamberg told me Thursday from a well-earned vacation location on the East Coast, where he was recharging batteries over a long weekend.

One provider strategy was to openly talk about finances and give anxious details any time an operator closed or had to cutback services. Doing it with a unified voice multiplied the effect. The basic message: We all lose if the state goes a 10th straight year without a Medicaid increase.

For envious peers around the country, many of whom have rung his phone over the past week, Shamberg suggests devoutly sticking to the “unity” theme.

“PHCA, LeadingAge, the unions, AHCA … they don’t need to be separate. We need to become one as an industry and share a unified message,” he emphasized. 

Indeed, LeadingAge Pennsylvania and others also were a driving force in this historic victory.

In the end, all long-term care providers and patients won. 

Other states’ advocates would be wise to mimic the Pennsylvania stakeholders’ strategy. As would federal lawmakers, many of whom seemed to have lost their compass, no matter what side of the aisle they sit on.

“United we stand, divided we fall” has never rung more true. Long-term care operatives must keep that in mind.

In Pennsylvania, grateful providers nonetheless hope to extend their winning streak. They won what they call survival funding via the Cares Act in 2020 and the American Rescue Plan in 2021. This year’s victory from the legislature (which technically kicks in Jan. 1, 2023), is considered “sustainability” funding — and hopefully sets the table for more success in the future. 

Now that Pennsylvania providers have earned a seat at the table, they are intent to keep the ball rolling. Surrounding states, after all, still have higher Medicaid payments and there are still providers curtailing services and closing buildings due to staffing and admissions challenges.

To the rest of the envious country, they also want to remind: Once you have a bullhorn, you better use it. Strings of opportunities, even if they’re richly deserved, will not last forever.

James M. Berklan is McKnight’s Executive Editor.

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