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WASHINGTON, DC — A new congressional caucus will focus on concerns specific to the long-term care sector, lawmakers and provider representatives announced at a briefing here Tuesday.

The bipartisan 21st Century Long-Term Care Caucus will focus on issues such as workforce challenges, industry regulation and innovations that might improve care in the near-term or far-term.

“There is no easy button to the challenges this industry faces,” Rep. Bryan Steil (R-WI), the caucus co-chair, told members of the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living Tuesday morning. “How do we care for our seniors, in particular in their later years in life? It’s a challenging situation, as you know, and it’s multifaceted. … But I do think there are areas that we can substantively, informatively come together on to really improve the care that’s being provided to our seniors, and in particular, the cost structure.”

Steil, joined by co-chair Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH) by video, said the caucus would work to bring more creativity and flexibility to the sector, especially when it comes to finding workers.

That was a major topic of interest Tuesday in Washington, where more than 500 AHCA members gathered this week for lessons in advocacy and meetings with their elected officials. Steil spoke at a Congressional Briefing, the second such event in two days.

Grass roots action

Earlier Tuesday, Clif Porter, AHCA senior vice president for government affairs, encouraged members to share with senators and representatives stories that illustrate the impact of losing 406,000 workers across skilled nursing and assisted living since the pandemic’s start.

“We can’t provide quality care if we don’t have people,” Porter said. “This is a huge issue for all of us. Oftentimes, we get painted with this brush of being money-grubbing … We care about money because we have to pay people to take care of people. It’s not about margins or profits. We need resources to hire people and deliver quality care.”

Porter encouraged urban and rural providers to explain their unique challenges. Nate Schema, president and CEO of Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, planned to do just that when he met with Sens. John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Micahel Bennet (D-CO) and Jon Tester (D-MT).

Good Sam, the nation’s largest nonprofit senior living and care organization by skilled nursing beds, has shuttered several buildings over the last year, citing staff shortages. It once pursued aggressive tactics to keep rural buildings open with agency workers, but more recently has reversed course in some cases as agency rates doubled and then tripled, Schema told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News Tuesday. 

“Seventy percent of the people we serve are in deep rural communities, so we want to make sure that they [members of Congress] understand a one-size fits all approach, whether it’s staffing minimums or any type of nursing home reform, could disproportionately impact our rural facilities,” Schema said.

“Staffing is absolutely crippling us in some of these communities,” he added. 

Systemwide, Good Sam has had about 2,000 job openings since January, and 40 of those vacancies are now in leadership or director positions. 

“The idea that we would bring forward some sort of staffing minimum … these people aren’t there today,” Schema said. “Where are they going to come from?”

Pushing for congressional intervention

In meetings with her state’s representatives, Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities President Betsy Johnson said she would share information about how a temporary nurse aide training program has helped providers keep their doors open. Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY) is a sponsor of a bill that would extend that program for two years. One of AHCA’s main goals this week was to recruit more co-sponsors as a means of building momentum for passage.

While the 21st Century Long-Term Care Caucus won’t have the same oversight or other powers as a committee, the founders’ goal is to create opportunities for House members and their staff to attend events, programs and briefings on issues in long-term care outside of the formal committee structure.

“How do we find adjustments at the policy level to make this care better for the people that are ultimately receiving it?” Steil asked, noting that the group also could look at consumer-facing issues such as drug pricing.

While the Senate has its Special Committee on Aging, a similar body in the House was killed in 1992 and efforts to revive it have been unsucceeded.