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12 Iowa nursing homes have closed since December, citing financial stress, worker shortages

Gazette - 7/15/2022

Jul. 15—JOHNSTON — A dozen nursing homes in Iowa have closed since December, largely due to financial stress from inflation, supply chain issues and workforce shortages, the leader of a statewide health care organization said Friday.

While many businesses and industries are facing those same pressures, Brent Willett, president and CEO of the Iowa Health Care Association, said nursing homes cannot respond to those pressures in the same way other businesses can.

Because of that lack of flexibility, many nursing homes, especially in rural areas, face closing, Willett said during the Friday taping of this weekend's "Iowa Press" at Iowa PBS studios in Johnston.

Willett made the comments Friday during taping of this weekend's episode of "Iowa Press" on Iowa PBS. He was joined on the program by Di Findley, executive director of Iowa CareGivers.

'Extraordinary' pressure

Willett called the inflationary pressures "extraordinary."

"Medical supplies are up 30 percent, 35 percent, certainly wage pressures are significantly higher than that and across the spectrum," Willett said.

"And again, long-term care facilities just don't have the option that the rest of the economy does, which is either limiting hour — we can't shut down — (and) we can't raise our prices because those prices are controlled by the federal and the state government.

"And so we are incurring ongoing and devastating financial losses, which, unfortunately, has begun to result in the closure of nursing homes across the state of Iowa.

"We've seen a dozen closures in the last seven months in Iowa, and we're fearful for more."

The recent closures, according to the Iowa Health Care Association, span Iowa, from Davenport to Sioux City, Cresco to Ida Grove. They have occurred in cities like Cedar Falls (population 40,000-plus) and small towns like Shellsburg (population 800-plus).

Willett said rural nursing home closures can be particularly stressful for that community's residents, because they must seek that care for themselves or family members elsewhere, often miles away.

Even where nursing homes that are staying afloat, many are being forced to reduce their services or available beds, Willett said. According to a recent survey of his group's members, at least 45 percent of Iowa nursing homes are limiting or freezing admissions because of a lack of staff, he said.

Help needed

Willett praised Iowa state government for its investment in Medicaid and Medicare programs, which help support nursing home operations.

However, he and Findley both said more government investment is needed, particularly by raising reimbursement rates so facilities are able to offer better wages and benefits to staff.

"There's a lot of mouths to feed when it comes to the state budget, but we are facing a crisis of access to care in Iowa that I fear will get much worse if we're not able to reinvest in the system and continue the job and finish the job that the Iowa Legislature and Gov. (Kim) Reynolds have championed over the last few years," Willett said.

Findley said she is pleased to see federal funding being used to help nursing home and in-home care workers, but she worries that assistance is a one-time, short-term fix.

"We need long-term, systemic change," she said.

The Iowa Health Care Association represents Iowa's nursing homes, assisted living centers and senior living communities. Iowa CareGivers represents direct care workers like certified nursing assistants and home care aids.

"Iowa Press" airs on Iowa PBS at 7:30 p.m. Friday and noon Sunday, and at 8:30 a.m. Saturday on PBS World. It also can be viewed online at

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