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DeKalb nursing home admins hopeful for piece of $240 million

DeKALB – Dalena Kemna-Kahn isn’t sure how much of the $240 million earmarked for Illinois nursing homes in the state’s new budget will go to Pine Acres Rehabilitation Center, but in the midst of a two-year long staffing shortage, she will take what she can get.

Kemna-Kahn is administrator at Pine Acres at 1212 S. Second St. in DeKalb. It’s a 119-bed skilled nursing facility for seniors in need of long-term care. Kemna-Kahn said she hopes additional funding will help alleviate staffing and Medicaid reimbursement shortages at her facility.

“We’re happy to get the funding that the new budget will give us,” Kemna-Kahn said. “Our costs keep rising.”

Nursing home industry advocates say state budget cuts and inadequate Medicaid reimbursement rates have led to the closure of more than 20 skilled- and intermediate-care facilites statewide in the past five years. Administrators at such facilities say they have found it difficult to recruit additional employees.

Of the $240 million in state and federal funds available, $70 million will be directly appropriated to help nursing homes hire staff and an additional $170 million will increase the reimbursement nursing homes receive to cover costs such as food, utilities, maintenance and equipment.

State Rep. Jeff Keicher, who voted in favor of the upcoming budget, said the state has long neglected to provide adequate funding for nursing homes.

“In my opinion, one of government’s most important jobs is to look after the people who just can’t look after themselves,” Keicher said. “We’ve got to be in that place to be able to provide that minimum livable standard.”

Kemna-Kahn said Pine Acres is not at risk of closure, but the tight labor market has made it a challenge to hire staff. She said the facility is losing out on applicants for positions such as nursing assistants and nurses who are entering other industries that have better pay.

“When the economy is stronger, there are more options for entry-level positions,” Kemna-Kahn said.

The $70 million for nurse staffing will be distributed by a funding formula to be decided by the Department of Healthcare and Family Services. That formula will drive greater funding to the nursing homes with more Medicaid bed days.

The amount Pine Acres will receive is up in the air at the moment, but Kemna-Kahn said she will be happy with any additional dollars.

“I don’t want to say it’s good, but we’ve been very fortunate that we have as much staff as we’ve had,” Kemna-Kahn said.

Nursing homes will be required to develop and submit an individualized staffing plan to DHFS, and must submit quarterly reports to demonstrate the funding is used satisfactorily. Those that do not use the money according to approved plans risk losing funding in the future.

Facilities also would be required to advertise any short-staffing violations on their websites and at public entryways, lobbies and registration desks.

Kemna-Kahn said she is not confident her piece of the pie will be enough to prepare Pine Acres Rehabilitation and Living Center for the regulations passed along with the budget. Her chief concern is a requirement to devote a licensed nurse to a two-day-per-week position in which they would be required to monitor and implement activities surrounding infection prevention.

She said the regulation would either stretch the responsibilities of the few nurses she has or force her to take on more employees from a drying pool of applicants.

“We didn’t have funding in the first place, and now there’s more compliance for us,” Kemna-Kahn said.

Medicaid reimbursements is another topic of concern for nursing homes across Illinois that is to be alleviated in July.

Accounting firm Plante Moran conducted a study last year that showed Illinois’ Medicaid reimbursement rate ranked 49th in the nation, and nursing homes lost about $15,000 a year – or an average of $41 a day – for each Medicaid-funded patient. The added $240 million will help fill an estimated $649 million single-year funding shortfall, according to the study.

Brian Thor, Bethany Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center director, said he believes his facility is in a good place financially, but, like all nursing homes in the state, he feels the pain of the Medicaid funding shortfall.

“Waiting for a reimbursement from the state is a huge challenge,” Thor said.

• Jerry Nowicki of Capital News contributed to this report.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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