Don’t take resources supporting elderly, vulnerable

As the Administrator at Eagle Cliff Healthcare Community in Billings, I have the privilege of working with some of Montana’s very finest. Our residents are not clients, but they are our family.
That’s why I was shocked when the Montana Legislature is looking at balancing the state budget on the backs of our seniors and most vulnerable neighbors. I certainly understand the difficulty in making ends meet, but we look to our leaders to make wise choices that will not throw those who live on the edge, over the edge.
Skilled nursing facilities are about 60 percent Medicaid, and that number is rising according to the Montana Department of Health and Human Services. This means that 6 out of 10 beds are filled with Medicaid patients. The actual cost of providing 24-hour care in a nursing home is about $34 a day higher than the daily rates paid by the State of Montana. That means someone else pays more or nursing homes operate in the red.
What happens when nursing homes operate in the red? Staff numbers are reduced and we have to start turning away those who need us most.
From 2009-2013, Medicaid rates were cut and frozen and the funding situation has not recovered. New federal government guidelines published in November 2016 are estimated to cost each facility $62,500 the first year and $55,000 for each subsequent year. This will cost Montana’s nursing homes a total of $5 million in the first year and $4.4 million every year after.
We hear a lot about good paying jobs these days. Skilled nursing jobs could be good paying jobs. They are skilled workers required to know about trauma and human behaviors. They do difficult work that is physically and emotionally draining. They have qualifications and training but they are paid less than fast food restaurants. Why? Because they work for Medicaid facilities and the state does not pay its fair share.
All this goes to say that 2017 is not the year to cut funding for nursing homes. Please join me in letter our lawmakers in the Billings area know that we shouldn’t be balancing the budget by hurting those who need us most.

Joe Lilienthal
Billings

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