As Nursing Homes Emerge From The Pandemic, Lawmakers Must Commit To Substantive Reform and Support For The Industry

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought systemic challenges impacting the long term care profession to light. With new COVID cases reaching record-lows thanks in large part to the vaccines, the industry is optimistic that we have turned a corner. As we look toward the future, long term care leaders and lawmakers must work together to apply the lessons learned and ensure that all seniors have access to quality long term care options.

America’s elderly population is growing. Substantive reform is needed within the industry as we prepare for the increased demand in long term care services. The American Health Care Association (AHCA), in partnership with LeadingAge, have proposed the Care For Our Seniors Act – a reform package that will support better pandemic management and strengthen overall care in our nursing homes. The package consists of four policy areas:

  • Clinical improvements to enhance quality of care
  • Workforce improvements to strengthen and support our frontline caregivers
  • Oversight reforms to make systems more resident-driven
  • Structural modernizations focused on resident dignity and safety​
The nursing home industry has called attention to these long-standing issues for years – issues that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic. For example, workforce shortages plagued nursing homes long before COVID-19 hit the U.S., but the pandemic worsened these shortages and left available workers stretched thin. The unprecedented challenges and traumatic experience of the past year have taken a heavy toll on caregivers, leading to considerable burnout among staff. Industry leaders are concerned that the profession will see a mass exodus of workers. In fact, The Washington Pos​t reports:

“According to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, roughly 3 in 10 health-care workers have weighed leaving their profession. More than half are burned out. And about 6 in 10 say stress from the pandemic has harmed their mental health.”

Meanwhile, a new study shows that improving nursing home infrastructure will better protect residents. The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, found that 31 percent of COVID deaths in nursing homes in Ontario, Canada would have been prevented if all residents had had single-occupancy rooms. The modernization proposal in the Care for Our Seniors Act calls for a shift to more private rooms, which will allow for greater privacy and dignity for residents, as well as promote enhanced infection prevention and control.

Implementing these reforms requires a commitment from federal and state lawmakers to properly fund nursing homes – particularly ensuring that Medicaid reimbursement rates cover the actual cost of care. With the majority of nursing homes already operating on razor-thin margins, the cost of making improvements will not be possible without financial assistance.

Long term care was forgotten at the beginning of the pandemic, but they cannot be forgotten now. Lawmakers have an opportunity to put America’s seniors and frontline caregivers first. The long term care industry is eager to work collaboratively with the Biden Administration, Congress and state governments to implement meaningful solutions that will protect our most vulnerable citizens, improve quality of care, and create meaningful jobs for our heroic caregivers

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) represents more than 14,000 non-profit and proprietary skilled nursing centers, assisted living communities, sub-acute centers and homes for individuals with intellectual and development disabilities. By delivering solutions for quality care, AHCA/NCAL aims to improve the lives of the millions of frail, elderly and individuals with disabilities who receive long term or post-acute care in our member facilities each day. For more information, please visit​.