John O’Connor

We’re seeing more stories about restaurants getting hit by a two-stroke menace.

Rising prices and labor shortages are adding insult to the injuries inflicted by COVID-19. But here’s the thing: It’s not just eateries.

Those same two bugaboos are hanging around long-term care facilities as well.

While the numbers are not yet in, it’s a safe bet your costs for food and other edibles have been climbing at a pace not seen in decades. We’re already hearing tales of 40% markups for meat alone. Suddenly, the produce section seems like a dark and dangerous place.

Worse yet, there is no indication these price hikes are temporary. And in case you didn’t notice, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen seems to be, ahem, pivoting about the bigger picture.

A month ago, she assured us the Fed had numerous tools for nipping runaway inflation in the bud. Now she’s saying that upon further review, rising prices are a bit concerning. And oh, by the way, Federal Reserve officials are now signaling they will probably increase interest rates by late 2023. As clouds on the horizon go, those are pretty dark.

Then there’s everyone’s favorite subject: labor pains. Guess what? The news isn’t so hot here, either.

Nearly half of small business owners (48%) had unfilled openings last month, the National Federation of Independent Business reports. My guess is that the percent may be considerably higher in this field.

Labor costs are a perennial challenge, as they are typically the leading item in facility budgets. And operators are feeling unprecedented pressure to up the ante. This is due in no small part to market forces (thanks, Jeff Bezos). But let’s not underestimate the punching power of local fiat. Increasingly, municipalities and other governing bodies are mandating minimum hourly rates into the mid-teen dollars, and beyond.

I’m not here to argue whether such amounts are fair. Frankly, we’d all like to make more than we now do, with few exceptions. And perhaps even a $15-per-hour baseline for a full-time employee is ridiculously low.

But what can’t be argued is whether any increase puts more stress on operators — many of whom are already struggling to make payroll.

Put those two problem children together, and the result is never pretty.

As usual, providers will simply have to find new ways to adjust. That too is a perennial challenge.  And we wonder why operators seem to be a bit tense and morose?

So many news reports seem to suggest our nation deserves better from long-term care providers. But maybe long-term care providers deserve a little better, too.

 John O’Connor is Editorial Director for McKnight’s.