masked healthcare worker holding her head
(Credit: Charday Penn / Getty Images)

“Our long-term care system is collapsing under the weight of high costs and low staff,” an aging services advocate recently told lawmakers in Kansas.

“It is hurting the quality and availability of services in our communities, and we are struggling to find solutions,” LeadingAge Kansas Chief Advocacy Officer Rachel Monger testified earlier this month before the Robert G. Bethell Joint Committee on Home and Community Based Services and KanCare Oversight.

LeadingAge Kansas was among groups with representatives at the hearing. “It’s getting harder to access care in Kansas,” she said of the senior living and care workforce crisis.

Monger referenced the organization’s Workforce Situation Report, released in September, to outline the effects of workforce challenges on residents and communities.

Due to workforce challenges and increased costs, 1,650 fewer beds were available in June in Kansas’ residential care facilities and nursing homes than there were at the start of the pandemic, according to the report. In addition, all or part of 35 facilities have closed, leaving almost 85,000 Kansans at risk of losing access to care.

According to the report, more than 72% of older adults in the United States will not be able to afford assisted living by 2033. Since the start of the pandemic, the assisted living workforce in Kansas has shrunk by 14%, while labor costs have increased 21%.

“Across the aging services field in Kansas, workforces have shrunk, and costs have skyrocketed, while reimbursement rates have stayed largely the same,” the report reads. “At best, it leaves providers in the position of having to do more with less. At worst, it means older Kansans can’t get the care and support they need to get through their day.”

In response to the dire workforce situation in the state, LeadingAge Kansas recommended state lawmakers focus on workforce development, higher Medicaid reimbursement rates, and workforce-friendly policies — including training programs, tuition assistance, child care assistance and infrastructure investment. The industry also asked for help reigning in the “price gouging and restrictive labor practices” of temporary staffing agencies. 

“We need accountability for healthcare staffing agencies who continue to charge Medicaid providers more than triple the going wage for essential healthcare workers during horrendous workforce shortages, and frequently restrict workers freedom to join a provider full time,” the report reads. “Without new oversight and reforms, the out-of-control costs and restrictive practices of temporary staffing agencies will continue to drain taxpayer dollars and the assets of elderly people in Kansas, while delivering inferior care compared to full-time, mission-driven staff, and further destabilizing a healthcare system in crisis.”

During the recent joint state House-Senate committee hearing, Chairwoman Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita) proposed introducing a bill in 2023 to reduce the training hours required for certified nurse assistants in the state from 90 to 75 hours, which would be in line with federal training requirements, as a start to addressing workforce issues in the state.