Senate Dems Discuss Nursing Home Reforms at Virtual Policy Hearing

Nursing HOmeImage via Pennsylvania Senate Democrat

HARRISBURG, PA — On Friday, Senator Katie Muth (D- Berks/Chester/Montgomery), Chair of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Policy Committee, and state Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), Caucus Chair, hosted a virtual public hearing on several nursing home funding and staffing reforms.

“Pennsylvania’s nursing homes are some of the most expensive in the US, yet many are struggling to remain afloat financially, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded and added to the many difficulties facing our nursing homes and their employees,” Muth said. “[The] hearing was an opportunity to discuss a number of necessary reforms that would improve the quality of care, the work conditions, and staff pay.  We also discussed solutions to improve transparency and the need to show how dollars are being spent, and the need to ensure dollars are directed to increased funding for wages and direct care staff, rather than profits.”

The Senate Democratic Policy Committee heard from several testifiers who talked about the need for significant funding reform at Pennsylvania’s nursing homes.

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“After listening to the testifiers, it is evident that nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Pennsylvania had been suffering way before the COVD pandemic hit.  It is imperative that long-term drastic changes need to take place in terms of adequate staffing ratios that pay living wages as well as comprehensive funding reform on various levels,” Fontana added. “We have an obligation to not only to the dedicated employees of these care facilities but also to provide safe and quality living conditions to the residents.  Although this hearing is just a starting point to open the dialogue, it is on us to make these necessary changes happen.”

Participants in the hearing included Diane Menio, Executive Director, CARIE; Matt Yarnell, President of SEIU HCPA; Anne Henry, Senior Vice President & Chief Government Affairs Officer, LeadingAge PA; Pam Walz, Community Legal Services; and Tyreika Tate, Dietary Aide, Walnut Creek Healthcare.

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“There has been a lot of discussion about workforce shortages in nursing facilities and we have heard arguments that there are not enough workers to raise staffing levels,” Pam Walz, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia said. “The truth is that we need increased staffing levels to improve quality of care and to improve the quality of nursing home jobs so that the industry can attract the workers that are needed.”

She noted that the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s proposed revision to its nursing facility licensing regulations would increase the minimum required level of direct nursing care from 2.7 to 4.1 hours per resident per day. SEIU has estimated that the additional cost to reach the 4.1 hour per day staffing level is $350 million per year in state funding. These state funds would be matched by an approximately equivalent amount of federal Medicaid funding.

Tyreika Tate, who has worked in the Dietary Department at the Walnut Creek Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Erie for 36 years, noted that because CNAs, LPNs, and support staff are stretched so thin a single incident with one of the residents can throw off our entire eating and service schedule, which creates chaos within the facility.

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“When workers feel like we are so disrespected, and simply don’t earn enough money to stay on the job and can find other less stressful work – then you understand the seeds of this short-staffing crisis,” Tate said.

All submitted testimony from the hearing and the full video is available at SenatorMuth.com/Policy.

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