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Auditor general warns of dwindling nursing home workers

Beaver County Times - 7/24/2019

Jul. 24--While he said improvements have been made in nursing home care in Pennsylvania since a 2016 audit, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said Tuesday that much more needs to be done to prepare for a wave of older residents who will need care in coming years.

"By 2040, nearly a quarter of Pennsylvania's population will be 65 or older," DePasquale said in a statement. "That's over 3 million Pennsylvanians who will likely need some kind of care, many of whom may lack personal financial resources or family support and end up relying on taxpayer-funded programs like Medicaid."

In a press conference with state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, DePasquale said that by 2030, there will be 38 adult dependents for every one working Pennsylvanian.

Another approaching crisis is the shortfall in workers and equipment needed to care for nursing home residents, DePasquale warned.

"The number of health-care workers is currently not keeping pace with current demand and not keeping pace with future demand," he said.

Estimates are that by 2030, Pennsylvania will be short more than 4,000 registered nurses, the auditor general said, and in 2026, the state will be short 37,000 direct-care workers.

"Pennsylvania's looming health-care crisis must be addressed," DePasquale said.

Community colleges and universities in the state will play a pivotal role in preparing students to enter nursing home jobs, he said.

DePasquale's report released Tuesday, "Who Will Care for Mom and Dad?," reviews the health department's actions on nursing home care following the 2016 audit, which identified deficiencies in overseeing nurse-staffing levels, complaint handling and sanctions imposed against poor-performing facilities.

Overall, the 2016 report contained 13 findings and 23 recommendations. The new report has nine observations and 30 recommendations.

DePasquale urged state legislators and other leaders "to act quickly to bolster our elder-care systems and improve access to and quality of care. We are facing an elder-care crisis, and we continue to ignore it at our own peril."

About 90,000 Pennsylvanians are living in more than 700 nursing homes, the report states.

DePasquale lauded Levine and her department for addressing the shortfalls identified in the 2016 report and working with auditors.

Nevertheless, the report said more needs to be done to correct "lax vetting processes" in the granting of licenses, insufficient data collection about improvements to homes and more collaboration to prepare for the influx of baby boomers needing care.

Levine said the Pennsylvania Health Department has stepped up its oversight, conducting more than 2,910 inspections this year by June 30, including nearly 1,700 complaints, and finalizing $1.7 million in civil penalties.

"We have used our full authority under the law to enforce sanctions that not only ensure that operators are fixing the problems that we find," Levine said, "but that they are implementing those changes faster and more efficiently."

By the end of the year, Levine said, the department hopes to have proposed updated nursing home regulations that have not been changed since 1999.

Levine encouraged anyone with nursing home complaints to call 800-254-5164 to submit anonymous tips. The hotline is part of the department's "Speak Up, We're Listening" campaign.

"We investigate every complaint that we receive," Levine said.

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(c)2019 the Beaver County Times (Beaver, Pa.)

Visit the Beaver County Times (Beaver, Pa.) at www.timesonline.com

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