U.S. Capitol Buiding dome
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WASHINGTON, DC — A new congressional caucus will focus on concerns specific to the long-term care sector, lawmakers and provider representatives announced at a briefing here Tuesday.

The bipartisan 21st Century Long-Term Care Caucus will focus on issues such as workforce challenges, industry regulation and innovations that might improve care in the near-term or far-term.

“There is no ‘easy’ button to the challenges this industry faces,” Rep. Bryan Steil (R-WI), caucus co-chair, told members of the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living Tuesday morning. “How do we care for our seniors, in particular in their later years in life? It’s a challenging situation, as you know, and it’s multifaceted. …But I do think there are areas that we can substantively, informatively come together on to really improve the care that’s being provided to our seniors, and in particular, the cost structure.”

Steil, joined by co-chair Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH) by video, said the caucus would work to bring more creativity and flexibility to the sector, especially when it comes to finding workers.

That was a major topic of interest in Washington on Tuesday, where more than 500 AHCA and NCAL members gathered this week for lessons in advocacy and meetings with their elected officials. Steil spoke at a Congressional Briefing, the second such event in two days.

Earlier in the morning, Clif Porter, AHCA / NCAL senior vice president for government affairs, encouraged members to share with senators and representatives stories that illustrate the impact of losing 406,000 workers across assisted living and skilled nursing since the pandemic’s start.

“We can’t provide quality care if we don’t have people,” Porter said. “This is a huge issue for all of us. Oftentimes, we get painted with this brush of being money-grubbing. …We care about money because we have to pay people to take care of people. It’s not about margins or profits. We need resources to hire people and deliver quality care.”

Porter encouraged urban and rural providers to explain their unique challenges. Nate Schema, president and CEO of Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, planned to do just that when he met with Colorado Sens. John Hickenlooper (D) and Micahel Bennet (D) as well as Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT).

Good Sam, second-largest nonprofit senior living and care organization in the country, according to the 2021 LeadingAge Ziegler 200 list, has shuttered several buildings over the past year, citing staff shortages. It once pursued aggressive tactics to keep rural buildings open with agency workers but has in some cases reversed course as agency rates doubled and then tripled, Schema told McKnight’s Tuesday. 

“Staffing is absolutely crippling us in some of these communities,” he said. 

Systemwide, Good Sam has had about 2,000 openings since January, and 40 of those vacancies are now in leadership or director positions. 

In meetings with her state’s representatives, Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities & Kentucky Center for Assisted Living President Betsy Johnson said she would share information about how a temporary nurse aide training program has helped providers keep their doors open. Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY) is a sponsor of a bill that would extend that program for two years, and one of AHCA / NCAL’s main goals this week was to recruit more co-sponsors as a means of building momentum for passage.

Although the 21st Century Long-Term Care Caucus won’t have the same oversight or other powers as a committee, the founders’ goal is to create opportunities for House members and their staffs to attend events, programs and briefings on issues in long-term care outside of the formal committee structure.

“How do we find adjustments at the policy level to make this care better for the people that are ultimately receiving it?” Steil asked, noting that the group also could look at consumer-facing issues such as drug pricing.
Although the Senate has an aging committee, a similar committee in the House was killed in 1992, and efforts to revive it so far have not succeeded. The Senate Special Committee on Aging, as a special committee, has no legislative authority, but members can study issues, oversee programs and advance causes.