Healthcare is described as a team sport and it is not just clinicians who suit up for the team, it also includes industry leaders and policy makers to move the ball down the field. Senator John Thune collaborated with the South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations (SDAHO) advocacy team earlier this week, focusing on healthcare solutions for South Dakota. SDAHO who advocates for hospitals and post-acute care providers, brought together Senator John Thune along with the advocacy team from LeadingAge to address the nursing home and workforce crisis which has led to nursing home closures and access issues for our most vulnerable population. Long term health care in South Dakota is at a crisis point due to burdensome regulations, insufficient Medicaid reimbursement rates, skyrocketing inflation, workforce shortage, aging infrastructure, and civil monetary penalties.
The meeting with Senator Thune focused on the reasons for nursing home closures with the workforce shortage and cost of traveling staff as the number one issue. According to Becker’s Review, South Dakota ranks #4 in the country for the largest increase in travel nurse pay. On average, for direct care staff, the regular hourly wage for an RN is $36.29 whereas the hourly wage for contracted RNs is $114.89. There is a small, rural nursing home in South Dakota who spent $1.2 million on traveling staff through July of this year and spent $1.3 million for all of 2021. Tammy Hatting, COO, SDAHO and LeadingAge State Executive took part in conversations with Senator Thune. “The costs are not going down and the only way some of our nursing homes are staying open at this point is by bringing in contracted staff, which is not sustainable”.
According to Tim Rave, SDAHO’s CEO, “it is going to take both state and federal policy makers to help us remove regulatory barriers, increase the workforce pool and construct an appropriate provider reimbursement methodology to keep up with the rising cost of providing care to nursing home residents.”
In July 2022, SDAHO helped advance the conversation by bringing together industry leaders to address the workforce shortage and identified bold steps we can take to create a strong nursing profession in South Dakota. Those ideas were shared with Senator Thune as well as discussing possible federal solutions on fixing the legal channels for bringing in foreign workers and expediting the US Labor Department approval for work visas. Another simple federal fix to the workforce crisis is asking congress to pass Senate Bill 4381, Ensuring Seniors’ Access to Quality Care Act, which allows a nursing home to speed up the training of more certified nursing assistants in nursing homes.
The nursing home workforce is feeling the fatigue of COVID as they have been operating under layers upon layers of unfunded federal regulations, reporting and conflicting messaging since March 2020. Nursing home residents have had their home-like setting replaced with masking, isolation, restrictions, and testing. SDAHO will be working diligently with our members to identify recommendations on regulatory relief to share with our DC delegation and other federal partners. Hatting summed it up by saying “I see SDAHO as the quarterback in this team of healthcare partners, working across the continuum to give our legislators and key stakeholders the data and tools needed to make impactful decisions for the health care providers and residents of this state”.