Thursday, 16 February 2023 13:00

New York Must Support Its Senior Citizens

By J. Brian Nealon | Editorials

Tens of thousands of elderly residents across New York State, and the dedicated staff who care for them, are being left behind due to the state’s ongoing underfunding of the Medicaid reimbursement rate for nursing homes. The rate was last increased substantially 15 years ago – when George W. Bush was President. Since that time, inflation has risen by 42%. 

Medicaid pays for care for many nursing home residents across the state. At The Wesley Community, 75% of our residents are paid for by Medicaid, yet it only covers part of the actual costs of care. With every Medicaid resident we care for, Wesley loses $106 per day. Annually, this means underfunding of $8,500,000. 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to approach breakeven in some years through alternative revenue streams and generous donations from this great community. That is no longer the case. 

Due to this shortfall, community-focused, nonprofit nursing homes statewide are closing or being sold to private “for-profit” operators at an alarming rate. In Saratoga County alone, the number of nursing home beds has dropped by 55% in the last decade. 

This underfunding by New York State has forced many nursing homes, including ours, to limit admissions. Throughout New York, 6,700 beds are “offline” for this reason. It has made it harder to find nursing home placement nearby for loved ones and created tremendous pressure on hospitals, too.

Without available beds, hospitals cannot discharge patients who would have traditionally gone to a nursing home for rehabilitation. This impacts the entire system, backing up emergency rooms and limiting available beds for hospital inpatient care.

In contrast, 26 other states have stepped up to support their senior citizens by increasing their Medicaid funding during the pandemic. Only New York distinguished itself by reducing its reimbursement rates during that time. 

Why should New York State’s disregard for elderly citizens matter to you? It should matter because these local elders worked, lived and built the very community where you now reside. They paid taxes and likely voted for some of the elected officials who, in turn, have not supported their needs.

It should matter to you because these nursing home residents are the parents, grandparents or great-grandparents of your friends and neighbors. Chances are, some of your neighbors have jobs taking care of the elderly, as well. 

It should matter to you because someday you will need aging services. 

Not-for-profit nursing homes throughout the state are asking every Legislator and the Governor to prioritize long-term care in the next state budget by providing a 20% increase in the nursing home Medicaid reimbursement rate — less than half of the increase in costs that we have absorbed over the past 15 years. The Governor’s recently released Executive Budget, with a proposed 5% increase, is a start, but still falls short of what is needed after years of underfunding. 

Thankfully, some of our Assembly and Senate members are advocating with a coalition of nonprofit nursing homes for appropriate funding and a 20% increase in the Medicaid reimbursement rate.

We are fully committed to our mission as we have been for five decades. However, it will take appropriate funding from New York State for our organization to continue operating successfully. NOW is the time for our elected officials to show their support for our seniors who need help today, and for those of us who will need help in the future. 

J. Brian Nealon is the CEO of The Wesley Community in Saratoga Springs. 

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