Iowa’s long-term-care centers just endured their most trying year, and more significant challenges loom in 2021.
State lawmakers could help in the upcoming session by easing the financial burden of such organizations.
As COVID-19 spread rampantly throughout communities across the state in 2020, it especially proved devastating when making its way into long-term-care centers, despite the best efforts of staff. As of December, less than 3% of the confirmed COVID-19 cases in Iowa were tied to these centers, but about 30% of the state’s related deaths were.
These facilities and their administrators and staffs grappled with shortages of personal protective equipment at times.
Another pressure point was staffing shortages — some of which were tied to pre-pandemic trends and some of which related to staff needing to quarantine when exposed to the coronavirus.
Visiting restrictions also provided another challenge, as residents’ loved ones largely were prevented from visiting in person as facilities followed the best guidance to try to keep COVID-19 from their fragile populations.
One administrator of a Dubuque facility recently recalled how her staff, in an effort to best assist the residents, took on duties such as hairdresser and how they helped residents with technology to be able to do things like stream grandchildren’s ballgames and performances.
While the distribution of vaccinations in these facilities will help address the scourge that is COVID-19, Iowa long-term-care centers were feeling funding pressure even before the pandemic.
More than half — 52%, to be exact — of nursing homes’ operating income comes from Medicaid, according to the Iowa Health Care Association. And that same organization is quick to point out that the funding rates are far short of where they should be, to the tune of $31.5 million.
If that figure is eye-opening, there is good news: It used to be even larger. The Legislature in 2019 set aside more than $23 million to help address some of the shortfall.
We urge lawmakers to look at how to address the remainder this session.
We recognize that COVID-19 has created levels of need across Iowa’s industries and populations unlike any disaster in recent times, and as such, funding discussions and decisions in Des Moines could be tougher than ever.
But long-term-care centers need help. And unless and until Medicaid funding can be better addressed, that help will have to come from the Statehouse.
These centers truly are essential services, and they have been put to the test since March, entrusted to care for and protect some of our most vulnerable residents.
We applaud their efforts and those of all the men and women who they employ.
Putting these centers on a more-secure financial footing for services they already provide would be an investment in an industry that has served us well — and that we need in a healthy state going forward.