HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania nursing home trade associations said Monday they had agreed to increase staffing as part of a deal with Gov. Tom Wolf to increase aid to an industry struggling with a death rate. high turnover.
As Pennsylvania is awash in excess tax revenue, Wolf on Monday signed legislation authorizing nearly $300 million per year, or nearly 20% more per year, in additional Medicaid payments to nursing homes, which have been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trade associations had reached a compromise on staffing levels with the Wolf administration and SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, a union that represents about 5,000 nursing home workers, before the legislations were signed.
“This is a major step forward for Pennsylvania’s long-term care industry,” Wolf said at a Capitol press conference after signing the legislation.
Officials say the money is expected to boost worker salaries, staffing levels and retention while stabilizing facility finances and improving the quality of care.
Matt Yarnell, president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, said the pandemic’s toll on nursing homes helped persuade state budget makers to grant a Medicaid reimbursement rate increase.
Pennsylvania’s Medicaid reimbursement rate increase is the first in nearly a decade, trade associations said.
Professional associations had been pushing for higher rates, saying some facilities were closing or downsizing because they were losing money on every resident covered by Medicaid.
They also fought Wolf’s initial proposal last year to require them to increase direct care hours by 50%.
The staffing agreement calls for a modest increase in direct care hours — from 2.7 to 2.87 per patient per day — but sets minimum shift ratios for nurses and nursing assistants to patients.
Wolf’s proposal was not “feasible,” given the difficulties in finding and retaining workers, said Garry Pezzano, president of LeadingAge PA, which represents nonprofit retirement homes.
Personnel regulations are expected to be finalized before Wolf leaves office in January.
The reimbursement of the higher rate takes effect on January 1. Meanwhile, lawmakers have approved sending $130 million to nursing homes as part of federal coronavirus relief to help them hire and retain workers.
Yarnell said he hopes to raise the wages of certified practical nurses to $20 an hour.
Currently, the statewide average is $16.50 and nursing homes are struggling to keep workers from leaving for other industries, including the service industry, a said Zack Shamberg, president of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, which represents for-profit nursing homes.