Long-term care facilities financially strained

By: 
Kevin Kilough with the Powell Tribune, from the Wyoming News Exchange

POWELL — A concerning trend in nursing care in Montana may offer a glimpse of what’s to come in Wyoming.  Seven nursing homes have closed in Montana, which represents about 10% of its nursing home beds. 

“There are a few others in Montana that have voiced their concerns about their long-term financial sustainability,” said Nicole Hobbs, vice president of regional operations for Billings Clinic, at the Powell Valley Healthcare Board of Directors meeting in July.

Eric Boley, president of the Wyoming Hospital Association and Leading Ag Wyoming, which represents about two-thirds of nursing homes in Wyoming, said the problems that are impacting nursing homes in Montana are challenges Wyoming facilities are also facing, including staffing shortages and Medicaid reimbursement rates that don’t cover the full cost of care. 

“We have nursing homes that are really struggling financially, for a myriad of different reasons,” Boley said. 

The Daily Montanan reported that the state’s long-term care facilities lose about $100 per day per resident. Boley said in Wyoming, the figure is about $80 per resident per day. 

To be viable financially, a nursing home needs to be nearly full, but with labor shortages, many facilities just don’t have the staff to care for full occupancy. 

Terry Odom, PVHC CEO, said they have been relying on contract labor to fill many of the open positions at the Powell Valley Care Center, which has sent the hospital’s budget for contract labor over by $1.75 million, year to date. The pressure to keep costs down has meant they’ve had to limit the residents they can take at the care center. 

“We’re monitoring that closely to make sure we can provide enough staff for the residents, and to keep it capped at around 60 residents,” Odom said. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Odom said, they managed about 85 residents, which they couldn’t do now. 

Boley said most long-term care facilities in Wyoming are limiting the patients for the same reason — lack of staffing. 

“It’s not because the demand isn’t out there. It’s because they can’t staff the facilities,” Boley said, adding that with inflation driving up other costs besides wages, “it’s the perfect storm.” 

Boley noted that Wyoming’s population is aging, and fewer young people are calling the Cowboy State home. That means the demand for long-term care is likely to increase. 

Across the country, including in Montana, baby boomers are reaching the age they will require long term care services. 

“It’s not a good thing to have nursing homes closing at the rate it seems they are,” Hobbs said. 

Boley said that many facilities, like the PVHC care center, are attached to hospitals, which are subsidizing the 

long-term care facilities. This is helping to sustain them. He doesn’t know of any facilities in Wyoming that have specific plans to close anytime soon, but they are looking at their long-term financial viability closely. 

“I do know a lot of them are looking at options and trying to figure things out,” Boley said. 

 

This story was published on August 9, 2022.

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