Looking at the current state of the long-term care industry, there’s no denying that we’re all in a challenging position. As demand for long-term care is expected to increase exponentially in the coming decades, it’s important to face these challenges head on now, and prepare for those to come. 

Inevitably, with these challenges come shifts in the market, and it’s crucial for vendors to evolve their offerings to better support their customers, meeting the market where it’s at. We’re already implementing enhancements to ensure we’re there for our partners when needed while seeking out areas where we can increase efficiency and effectiveness at the same time.

Perhaps the most significant challenge facing the industry is staffing. Facilities, in particular, are feeling the effects of staffing shortages: with many leaving for higher paying positions, there’s often not enough staff to support the volume of residents or patients that is needed to provide optimal care. 

While I don’t predict this to be a challenge that will resolve overnight, there are ways to upskill your current staff now, providing growth opportunities and engagement that will drive employee retention. For example, we recently developed innovative virtual trainings that include monthly webinars, podcasts, and more, allowing for a shift from the on-site only training approach, to offering timely updates to facility staff when it suits their availability. 

Financial challenges at play

We also know that facility administration is under a lot of pressure, but it’s not simply staff shortages weighing on them. There are many financial pressures in play too, such as reimbursement, payment and cost management, which will continue to linger throughout the year.

From a reimbursement standpoint, there’s been a shift both at the state and federal level in how we reimburse care given to our most vulnerable population. There is an opportunity to focus on cost containment and maximization of reimbursement, doing so in a way that does not negatively affect resident outcomes. For this to be successful, facility leadership must manage their patient mix, allowing for optimization of reimbursement, and that doesn’t always mean avoiding admission of residents with higher acuity. The implementation of the Patient Driven Payment Model (PDPM) in 2018 has given nursing homes the opportunity to take the higher acuity patient, working with their care partners to focus on the resident’s unique needs and basing payment on patient care requirements, rather than the volume of services.  

Similarly, on the clinical side, staff must ensure they’re delivering a level of care that not only meets state and federal requirements but exceeds them. It’s more important than ever for facility leadership to partner with their care providers, ensuring they are identifying opportunities to implement impactful clinical programs that improve resident care. 

Meeting regulatory requirements as a team

Regulatory scrutiny is yet another common challenge facilities are experiencing. Many partners need regulatory support with Department of Public Health or Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issues. Facility leaders need to have access to the most recent information and the latest arsenal of tools to help them meet those regulatory requirements.

The key here is to rely on technology to identify national and regional survey trends in CMS citations that uncover where facilities need to implement change in their regulatory approach, and how a partner can help support them with those changes. A partner should ensure a facility is as prepared and organized as possible to meet regulatory requirements, and this is an offering we have been providing successfully to our partners over the last six months, and have received great feedback on. Facilities should inquire about this type of support with their current pharmacy service providers or consider making a switch if this is among the gaps that are failing to tackle common pain points. 

It pays to have a trusted partner working closely with you to combat these challenges. When we think about our role, serving as a reliable partner to many long-term care facilities throughout the nation, we always think of our relationships with our customers as partnerships: we’re not just a vendor. Through partnership, we’re able to gain a deeper understanding of what our customers are looking for, and we’re built uniquely to tailor services to those providers.

Expectations for the future

Simply put, my advice is for facilities to expect more from their provider partners. A vendor should be helpful, willing to listen to your needs, and have visibility across the industry, including a diverse array of facilities. These attributes allow a qualified vendor to provide unique perspectives and advanced solutions to today’s challenges, all while anticipating those to come. If they don’t have solutions at the ready for the unique hurdles that may surface, that’s when they should shift to meet the market and innovate to assist your needs. 

Looking into 2024, facilities and their partners should continue to strive for quality improvement. We’re constantly looking for ways to evolve, innovate and work with our customers to help define and deliver on their goals, and your partner should too. But it’s also crucial to leave space for the next big challenge that might emerge so you can continue to evolve and be agile when the time comes.

To do so, we’re really leaning into technology this year and leveraging it to better support our customers, exploring advancements in AI, predictive modeling and relying on data collection to observe and learn from CMS citations. It’s important to determine how we can use technology to help facilities overcome the challenges they face, but to also determine how we then improve resident outcomes and increase efficiency through technological advances. That’s where we’re continuing to innovate in 2024.

Nicole Kostelc is the executive director of quality long-term care at Omnicare.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.

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