State should reach for federal safety net

Delta Rehabilitation Center in Snohomish was rated one of the top 100 nursing homes by U.S. News & World Report last year. The majority of our more than 115 residents, who range from 18-60 years old, have suffered traumatic brain injuries and are dependent on the long term care provided by this facility and its 170 skilled employees.

The highly specialized care Delta provides is 100 percent dependent upon the state Medicaid program that serves the poor and disabled. After a series of state budget cuts last year, we were able to remain open thanks to a special, one-time funding provision by the Legislature. This year, the situation is not as hopeful.

Proposed budget cuts in Olympia this year includes $15 million in new cuts to our state’s nursing homes for the last three months of this fiscal year, and an additional $77 million for the biennial budget period.

For Delta, that translates to a $60,000 loss each month — the equivalent of 26 full-time, skilled staff members. For our residents, and the quality care they deserve and depend on, that is not an affordable cut.

Fortunately for our 117 residents and 170 employees who depend on the local, family wage jobs Delta provides, we have a chance to keep this from happening.

There is legislation pending in Olympia that would create a nursing home Safety Net Assessment (SNA), allowing us to access additional federal funds to help cover the state’s cost of providing nursing home care.

The proposal is simple: Nursing homes will pay a fee to the state based mostly on services provided to low-income, Medicaid-funded residents. The state then leverages those dollars to win matching funds from the federal Medicaid program.

The additional federal dollars are then redistributed to the state’s nursing homes and are directed toward the cost of providing care.

This isn’t a shot in the dark.

In fact, Washington is one of the only states that doesn’t take advantage of this sensible opportunity. The SNA is based on near-identical programs in 37 other states — a sizable majority of our country. These states are receiving federal dollars, some of which come from our state, to help provide for their frail and elderly.

Other states face economic problems similar to our own, but they have wisely chosen to take advantage of this crucial financial support from the federal government. The programs in these states have provided a boost to nursing homes, so we are operating off of a model that has proven success.

Without the Safety Net Assessment, the supplemental budget will result in near immediate loss of quality care and family wage jobs — many in rural communities with few options for families and patients. The unintended consequences of pending budget cuts will be felt across our state, even though they could all be avoided.

The Safety Net Assessment is supported by patient advocates, care providers and facility owners who agree that this is the only way to avoid these cuts and even deeper cuts that will be part of the next biennial budget.

It’s time for us to claim our share of money from this program and support Delta Rehabilitation Center and the facilities like it across the state that care for our most frail and vulnerable citizens.

Chris Walsh is the administrator of the Delta Rehabilitation Center in Snohomish. Rich Miller is the president/CEO of Washington Health Care Association, the state’s largest association representing skilled nursing facilities.

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