The ongoing debate about staffing requirements in nursing homes took an even more bizarre twist on Thursday.
That’s when 103 House members, led by Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) decided not to leave bad enough alone. Instead, they called for a 40% increase in the mandated number of nurse hours per patient day.
Yes, that is on top of staffing increases CMS has already proposed.
I’m not saying that even what CMS is calling for is impossible. But that alone would likely require an infusion of at least $6 billion in taxpayer support. Does anyone believe that is going to happen any time soon?
Look, I get where consumer advocates and other skeptics are coming from. While nursing homes have made major improvements in care quality during the past decade, more than a few unscrupulous players remain. Either that, or Google is making up a lot of stories about operators being charged with fraud, abuse and other misdeeds these days.
Moreover, the industry is doing itself no favors by failing to hold its nefarious characters in any way accountable. So yes, there is certainly room for improvement.
But here’s the thing: facilities cannot find enough help as is. Piling on to an impossible demand seems akin to the adage about beatings continuing until morale improves.
And by the way, has the need-for-more-staffing crowd bothered to take a look at the existing state of nursing homes? Despite increased demand for services, the construction of new facilities has been minimal, with fewer than10 built in the past five years and numerous closures.
In fact, the available evidence suggests that more facilities, especially in rural areas, might soon shut down. This poses a significant challenge as individuals seeking long-term care services are already grappling with the scarcity of facilities, often being forced to travel long distances. Some are already crossing state lines to access required care.
As some lawmakers advocate for higher staffing levels, they might want to consider the potential consequences of getting their wish.
Enacting stringent regulations, without considering the challenges faced by existing facilities, could worsen the shortage of nursing homes and create a significant service gap for those in need of long-term care.
If that happens, we all lose.
John O’Connor is editorial director for McKnight’s.
Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.