The U.S. Capitol building

Nonprofit senior care providers demand Congress “reverse outdated Medicaid policies from the 1960s” to rebuild the nation’s senior service sector. The providers made that call Wednesday during a webinar sponsored by LeadingAge, which represents 5,000 nonprofit aging service providers.

As Congress debates President Joseph Biden’s $1.9 trillion infrastructure plan, LeadingAge is pushing hard for the $400 billion the president earmarked for the care economy.

Katie Smith Sloan

“A strong aging services infrastructure is as critical to our nation as rebuilding roads and bridges, so Congress must make an investment in our essential aging services,” LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Sloan said.

LeadingAge’s  Blueprint for a Better Aging Infrastructure calls for support for home-and-community-based services (HCBS), more affordable senior housing and increased wages for care workers.

Recruitment problem

Kara Allread, senior vice president and chief administrative officer of Greenville, OH-based Brethren Retirement Community, said her company is having difficulty attracting facility-based and home-based nurses aides because her agency pays about $3 less than other low-wage employers in the area.

“We had a recent recruiting event with a local high school where there was zero interest from any of the graduating high school seniors to speak with any of the healthcare providers. I think they simply know that we cannot compete with the wages from the other industries that were represented there,” Allread said.

Call for higher Medicaid rates

Both Allread and David Totaro, chief government officer for Bayada Home Health Care, said higher worker wages must also be tied to higher Medicaid reimbursement rates.

“We are totally reliant on government funds and without more reimbursement, we just can’t pay our workers more,” Totaro said. “We’re not like the local pizza shop where you can increase the cost of pizza if the cost of making pizza increases.”

Totaro and Allread said the worker crisis is forcing their agencies to turn away clients or put them on lengthy waiting lists.

In addition to increasing wages, LeadingAge is calling on Congress to increase training and career opportunities for care workers, grant full access to HCBS, and permanently increase the Federal Medical Assistance Match (FMAP) by 10% for both HCBS and skilled nursing services.

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