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News Brief

Feb. 14, 2024 |  By: Deborah Van Fleet - Public News Service

NE Legislature to hear bills that bolster struggling long-term care industry


By Deborah Van Fleet - Public News Service

Nebraska saw nine long-term care facility closures in 2022, second only to 13 in Texas.

In the past three years, Nebraska has lost a combined 29 assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Inadequate funding for Medicaid patients, workforce issues and the rising costs of goods and services have all contributed to these closures.

Two bills to be heard in the Unicameral's Appropriations Committee today would mean substantial increases in state and federal funding for both types of facilities.

Jalene Carpenter, Nebraska Health Care Association CEO, says additional funding is crucial to stem the state's long-term care crisis.

"In Nebraska, 15 counties do not have a nursing home or an assisted-living [facility], and we are really starting to see a 'care desert' be created. And that causes significant issues for Nebraska seniors, " Carpenter expressed.

LB-941 would increase the daily reimbursement rate for assisted living residents on the Medicaid Waiver program. The new daily rate of just under $79 is based on a Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services study. LB-942 would increase the nursing home Medicaid reimbursement rate by about 5% over the next year. Both bills were introduced by state Sen. Myron Dorn, R-Adams.

Carpenter says the COVID-impacted long-term care workforce is improving in the state, but she stresses Medicaid reimbursement rates play a large part.

"A large portion of the Medicaid rate -- when you look at what it covers -- it's primarily going towards labor and benefits. Nursing-facility and assisted-living care is very hands-on, and we need adequate rates to be able to attract and retain team members," she added.

Carpenter said the state, educational institutions and organizations, including the Nebraska Health Care Association, are also focused on building the long-term care workforce -- including introducing young people to careers in health care and strengthening Certified Nursing Assistant programs.

"We're trying not only to increase the rates so that our facilities can attract and retain (employees), but then also, as an association, to look at other ways to drive people into the workforce for this profession, " she said.

In 2023, Gov. Jim Pillen approved a one-year, 3% increase in the Medicaid reimbursement rate, but vetoed the Legislature's 2% increase for the second year.