While many long-term care facilities are closing skilled nursing wings or decertifying beds, one healthcare company in northeastern Pennsylvania is bucking that trend and adding to its skilled nursing capacity. 

Allied Services Integrated Health System repurposed personal care rooms — what Pennsylvania calls assisted living — to add 42 private, skilled nursing beds in a facility it acquired in 2019 from the Catholic Diocese of Scranton. The group delicensed 48 personal care rooms in early 2021 and also relocated 42 private, skilled nursing facility dual-licenses from its Scranton campus to Wilkes-Barre (Luzerne County), where demand for skilled nursing is critical, company officials explained. 

“As is unfortunately the case in many counties across Pennsylvania, and the nation, Luzerne County has seen several nursing facilities close over the past few years, limiting access to care,” James Cooney, Allied’s vice president SNF operations, told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News on Wednesday. “Making this major investment reinforces the commitment of Allied Services to serve the population of Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania by enabling us to continue providing the highest quality post-acute care. As other facilities unfortunately have had to downsize or close their doors, we have decided to invest fully in our future and in the quality care we provide.”

The Access to Care Report published by the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living found that labor shortages have led 21% of providers to downsize their operations by dropping beds or units. A staggering 24% have closed a wing, unit or floor, McKnight’s reported last month.

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Health Care Association said at least two long-term facilities in the Willkes-Barre/Scranton region have closed in the last three years, forcing the transition of more than 100 residents to other facilities. 

It’s a trend occurring across the US, with 48% of respondents in an August Ziegler CFO Hotline survey reporting they had fully exited the SNF market, reduced their SNF footprint, or were in the process of downsizing.

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Allied, meanwhile, invested more than $10 million in renovations and now offers 225 skilled nursing beds in two facilities in Wilkes-Barre. Allied Service Center City Senior Community in downtown Wilkes-Barre, the former St. Luke’s Villa, is one of only two 5-star rated facilities in Luzerne County. 

Allied acquired three properties from the diocese, which had found that running long-term care operations was becoming too complicated due to an increasingly difficult regulatory environment amid decreasing reimbursements, according to reporting in the Scranton Times Leader at the time of the sale. Allied’s “vision … and reputation in the community” made it the most attractive buyer, Bishop Joseph C. Bambera said at the time.

True to its promise to retain staff, Allied held onto former Diocese employees who worked in assisted living. Some remained in that workforce while others chose to enroll in the company’s paid training to become certified nursing assistants, which offers a higher rate of pay than personal care. 

Just as Allied is bucking a national trend of decreasing skilled nursing beds, it is also tackling the staffing crisis through its own, internal agency through which employees can be cross-trained on nursing specialties and travel among the company’s facilities. It launched its agency last year and offers no-contract, temporary assignments for higher pay rates: up to $70 per hour for registered nurses, $50 per hour for licensed practical nurses, and $30 per hour for certified nursing assistants.

“We have not been immune to the staffing challenges that have faced every healthcare provider across the county since 2020,” Cooney said. “We have had an overwhelming interest from experienced nurses and nurse aides, and we are lucky to have developed such a great team of versatile caregivers to provide services to our most frail and elderly.”