Sustainability concerns escalate as long-term care providers continue to face COVID-19 challenges
HARRISBURG, Pa – During a state Senate Aging and Youth Committee hearing on Thursday, Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association (PHCA), outlined continued areas of concern and deep-rooted issues for long-term care providers as they combat the residual effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his testimony, Shamberg highlighted the financial instability of the sector, caused by skyrocketing pandemic-related costs. Those costs include personal protective equipment (PPE), COVID-19 testing, infection control protocols, “heroes pay” and “hazard pay” for staff and a reliance on agency staffing to cover shifts. The financial hardship created by the pandemic is compounded by an underfunded state Medicaid program, which falls nearly $50 short of covering the actual cost of care per day for nearly 70 percent of all nursing home residents.
Shamberg pleaded with members of the committee to advocate for the prioritization of long-term care when the state legislature looks to allocate more than $7 billion in the latest round of federal stimulus funds received by the state.
“The American Rescue Plan is not about building success –– it is about survival,” Shamberg said. “As the dust begins to settle from the pandemic, long-term care providers and workers are now left to operate with what remains: a depleted system in need of critical, emergency funding. Prioritizing long-term care with stimulus funds, is prioritizing our most vulnerable seniors and the healthcare workers who care for them.”
Another depleted area of concern that has been exacerbated by the pandemic, is the long-term care workforce, which is facing intensified burnout. According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18 percent of nursing homes in Pennsylvania reported a staffing shortage in March 2021. Staffing shortages create an unavoidable need for agency or contract staff, and leave providers with additional costs as they scramble to find frontline workers to care for their residents.
“Too often, we only tout STEM and STEM jobs to students. We need to expand the jobs narrative and highlight healthcare and career fields of compassion,” Shamberg said. “We must reconstruct a long-term care workforce pipeline, fortify our existing workforce, and ensure providers can invest in the men and women on the front lines of care with better wages, benefits and incentives.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor & Industry identified a projected shortage of more than 22,000 direct care workers a year from now through 2026.
In his testimony, Shamberg also emphasized concerns with Pennsylvania’s legal climate and the absence of targeted COVID-19 liability protections for long-term care providers. In November, Governor Tom Wolf vetoed House Bill 1737, which would have provided providers and other businesses protection from opportunistic lawsuits.
Shamberg was one of three testifiers that participated in today’s hearing.