Opinion: Iowa senior citizens are desperate for state's Medicaid support

·3 min read

This past year, 17 senior nursing care facilities across the state of Iowa closed their doors due to financial distress. In the first month of 2023, it was announced in the media that another six senior living facilities would soon be closing due to similar financial pressures. This past year over 90% of the long-term care facilities in Iowa were reported to have lost money on their operations.

Many, if not all, of these care facilities provide care for seniors needing rehab therapy, chronic medical care, or dementia care support. For many rural residents the closure of their local care center will mean relocating to another community many miles away from their families and friends. In addition, these care facilities are often the major employer in their communities.

As the chief executive officer for Luther Park Community, a faith-based, nonprofit senior care and residential community serving the Des Moines area for over 100 years, I have witnessed the growing financial challenges facing our organization for several years now. Initially we felt the operational pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic when it first hit us in 2020, and we were thankful for the federal Payroll Protection Program monies that supplemented our added expenses. However, over the past two years we have now seen increasing workforce shortages that have in-turn increased wages by 15% to 20% per year and had us supplementing our nursing staff with contracted agency nursing staff, costing us over a million dollars this past year.

The alternative options are few. We cannot, like some businesses, reduce our hours of operation as our residents require care 24/7, 365 days a year. We could, like 72% of our fellow Iowa care facilities are now doing, limit or stop taking admissions, but the result will be patients remaining in hospital beds while they wait for a nursing care bed to open closer to their home.

With two-thirds of our nursing care residents receiving Iowa Medicaid coverage for their care support, we like many senior care organizations are largely dependent on the state of Iowa for providing fair and adequate reimbursement to cover the cost of caring for Iowa’s most vulnerable citizens. At Luther Park we receive $225 per day from Iowa Medicaid to care for a nursing home resident. Our average cost per day for a nursing home resident is approximately $270 per day. This daily shortfall of $45 per day totaled up over the course of a full year amounts to a total loss of over $1.3 million annually.

To cover the cost of providing care for our residents, we need adequate funding for Medicaid reimbursement. The current situation will only get worse unless Medicaid funding is increased to cover the true cost of care.

I ask our Iowa legislators to increase the Medicaid nursing facility rebase rate this legislative session to help keep long-term care strong and local. We can in Iowa do better. We must do better. Our seniors deserve nothing less.

John Rieke
John Rieke

John Rieke is chief executive officer of Luther Park Community in Des Moines.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Opinion: Iowa senior citizens desperate for state's Medicaid support