ICYMI: NPR: Rural Nursing Home Operators Say New Staff Rules Would Cause More Closures

Advocacy; Regulations; Workforce
​In case you missed it, NPR posed this question in a new story about the impact of President Biden’s federal staffing mandate on rural nursing homes: “Is it better to have a nursing home that struggles to hire workers or no nursing home at all?”
Nursing home operators, residents and family members, staff and industry leaders in rural communities spoke on the record about the fear of more nursing home closures under the administration’s proposed rule. While nursing homes nationwide grapple with a historic labor crisis, the problem is especially acute in rural communities, as hundreds of facilities have already closed because of a lack of available workers.
NPR reports why the community of Syracuse, Nebraska is worried the federal mandate may force Good Samaritan Society – the town’s only nursing home – to close. The article explains:
“Syracuse, which has about 1,900 people, serves a farming region in southern Nebraska. Its red-brick nursing home sits near a cemetery, a hearing aid store, and a tractor dealership. It would need to hire several more aides and an overnight registered nurse to meet the requirements.
“Most of the nursing home's 46 residents are from the area. So are most employees. Staffers often care for their former teachers, coaches, and babysitters. They know each other's families.
“If the facility closed, many residents likely would be transferred to larger nursing homes in the city of Lincoln, a 40-minute drive northwest, or Omaha, which is an hour northeast. They would be placed among strangers.
“‘I truly think it would kill half of these people,’ says [Lana] Obermeyer, whose mother, Sharon Hudson, has been in the Good Samaritan home five years.
The article continues:
“Nellie Swale, a resident of Good Samaritan in Syracuse, Nebraska, hangs out with Karena Cunningham, a certified nursing assistant, who says her clients and colleagues are family to her.
“Resident Nellie Swale said she knows people who had to transfer to the facility from other nursing homes that closed. They were stressed and saddened by the move, she says. ‘Old people really depend on routines,’ she says.
“Certified nursing assistant Karena Cunningham tells residents she hopes the Syracuse nursing home stays open. But, she says, ‘we can't make them any promises.’
“Cunningham considered looking for a less stressful job, but she couldn't leave. ‘It's my family here. I love the friends I've made,’ she says.”
According to the report, 1,358 rural nursing homes would need to add nurses to meet the federal mandate.
The article also notes that 10 nursing homes in Nebraska have closed since 2021 and 27 in Iowa – most of which have been in small communities. The article further details the situation in Nebraska:
“Ten Nebraska nursing homes have shut down since 2021, says Jalene Carpenter, president of the Nebraska Health Care Association. Most have been in small towns.
“The state's long-term care facilities have raised wages as much as 30% in recent years, partly because Nebraska joined most other states in substantially increasing how much its Medicaid program pays for nursing home care, Carpenter says. But many of the state's 196 remaining nursing homes are limiting admissions because of staffing shortages, she says. ‘It's unsustainable.’
“Carpenter says part of the problem is that the population of seniors who need care in many rural areas outpaces the supply of working-age adults. Job seekers have plenty of choices outside of health care, many with better hours and less stress. She notes that nine rural Nebraska counties had no registered nurses in 2021.”
The NPR report underscores how seniors’ access to nursing home care continues to dwindle, as closures, downsizing and reduced admissions are becoming all too common. Tens of thousands of additional caregivers are needed to meet the proposed rule, all while lack of available workers continues to be the crux of the crisis. Solving this health care workforce shortage is critical, but the administration’s enforcement approach is flawed. Nursing homes need substantive and supportive policies in order recruit and retain workers. 
As CNA Karena Cunningham said in the NPR report, “Bring me these people that we're supposed to have for staff. Where are they?”    
Read the full NPR article HERE.