What We Can Do to Preserve the Future of Long-Term Care
Pre-pandemic, the long-term care industry already faced challenges. The past year has both increased and changed those challenges, and the industry is still working to recover. But what lies ahead in a year, five years’, or ten years’ time? Tom Hanzel, consultant and vice-president of long-term care at Parata Systems, shares his thoughts on the future of long-term care and what we can do to preserve it.
Challenges to Overcome
The long-term care industry faces multiple challenges, and many of them were in existence before the pandemic. Hanzel states that identifying where revenue will come from is an ongoing and major challenge. “I worked for a long-term care company for 10 years, and during that time I worked directly with administrators and directors of nursing,” explains Hanzel. “Long-term care facilities are always focused on where that revenue is going to come from, and on getting the next admission.”
The pandemic has made getting those new admissions even more of a challenge. “Is anyone going to want to go back and rehabilitate at a nursing center in the near future? Probably not,” says Hanzel.
The pandemic has also exposed several flaws in the long-term care industry. “The nursing shortage will get significantly worse,” he explains. Nursing shortage statistics are staggering. The American Nurses Association reports that in 2022, more registered nurse jobs will be available than the total available jobs for any other profession in the country.
According to predictions by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 11 million more nurses will be needed to avoid a worsening shortage. “Those numbers are astronomical,” says Hanzel. “Nurses want to work where they can get paid more, and nursing homes typically aren’t the highest payers on that spectrum.”
The pandemic highlighted how much long-term care facilities depend on their staff. Hanzel notes that facilities can operate with a certain number of staff per resident while adhering to CMS guidelines. But if one or two staff get COVID-19, or are just exposed, they have to quarantine. Many facilities require agency nurses to fill shifts, and the cumbersomeness of tasks like med pass puts additional stress on nurses who are already working hard just to get through shifts.
Other factors are also straining the industry. “Costs are at an all-time high, reimbursement continues to be threatened and reduced, and facilities face increasing regulation,” says Hanzel.
The pandemic has spurred facilities to be creative and to spring into action to protect residents and staff. Many residents adopted new precautions and practices. Hanzel notes that the pandemic has likely increased awareness for lasting effects in the industry. “We probably should have had this in place beforehand – quarantine faster, divide and section off a facility, and don’t allow unnecessary flow of staff and visitors.”
The pandemic has drawn attention to systems that can spread diseases, like the flu. “As a visitor, you could walk into a facility and go just about anywhere you want to go. It feels like a home setting, but it was unnecessary for people to visit wings that weren’t tied to their family member,” says Hanzel.
As a result, facilities are increasingly focused on adherence and on unlimiting unnecessary touches and contact between staff and equipment. “Everything in a long-term care setting should tie back to adherence and a decrease in hospitalizations,” explains Hanzel.
What the Future of Long-Term Care Holds
Hanzel predicts that some facilities won’t survive and will be forced to sell to large regional or national chains at a very low price. “This could take away independent owners from the business, though large corporations will probably survive and thrive,” he notes. “These large corporations might get nursing centers for pennies on the dollar compared to what they would have otherwise paid for them.”
“This is one of the most regulated industries in the country, and the elderly population Is skyrocketing. There are potentially tens of thousands of people who need nursing care and who won’t have centers to go into. Those challenges should fall on our national state leaders to increase funding and incentivize people to open nursing centers,” Hanzel says.
He adds that while many people are opening assisted living facilities, it’s also important to open new skilled nursing centers. “CMS needs to incentivize investment in the industry and make it a place nurses want to work. I would like to see associations like the American Healthcare Association get in front of Congress and talk about where we’re headed statistically, and get the government to help promote centers. They’ve done a good job of promoting the safety of flu vaccines; I’d like to see them promote that nursing homes are a great place for your loved ones. The industry as a whole will be supported by our government promoting that people return to nursing homes.”
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