Nursing Shortage: What the Future Holds for Nursing Homes

The nursing shortage in the United States adds to the growing problem of how to provide appropriate care for senior citizens who need nursing home services. Nursing homes have lost funding in recent years; in addition, more and more senior citizens are in need of nursing home services. Thus, experts predict that by the year 2050, there will be 18,000 more seniors who need nursing home care than there will be beds to house them. There are several factors that contribute to the nursing home shortage; if the economy improves, some of these problems may resolve themselves, but something still needs to be done.

Decline in Construction of New Homes
Many nursing homes were built with federal dollars during the 1960s. But now that these homes are getting older, sometimes they have to be closed. The federal government has cut funding to construct nursing homes or to maintain existing ones. This means that many nursing homes are closing and new ones aren’t being built.

Housing Market Collapse
The housing market collapse has also affected nursing home care. In the past, senior citizens or their families often sold their homes in order to pay for nursing home care. However, due to the housing market collapse, it’s becoming more difficult for senior citizens to sell their homes. Their homes may not be worth as much as they were when they bought them; in addition, people are not buying houses as much as they used to. Thus, more seniors are finding themselves without a source of funding and having to depend on Medicare and Medicaid.

Cuts in Reimbursement
Since most seniors rely on Medicare and Medicaid to help them pay for nursing home care, cuts in these programs significantly affect how many people can afford nursing care. In 2011, the federal government cut reimbursement to nursing homes from Medicare by 11 percent. Nursing homes tend to lose money on Medicaid patients, as Medicaid doesn’t pay for the entire cost of the patient’s treatment. However, it is illegal for Medicaid certified homes to turn any patient away who is on Medicaid and/or no longer has enough financial resources to pay for care. As a result, nursing homes don’t have the money they need to keep themselves open and provide appropriate care to all patients.

The main consequence of these problems is that many nursing homes have had to cut staff, and more cuts are expected in the future. Nursing homes simply cannot afford to pay for all of the staff they need to stay open because of lack of funding and their patients’ inability to pay for nursing home care themselves. As a result, nursing homes tend to be understaffed, and this problem is going to get worse over time.

While nursing homes are struggling to admit patients and care for them properly, the number of patients that need nursing home care services is steadily increasing. People are living longer–it’s not uncommon for people to live into their 90s or even reach 100 years of age–and the baby boom generation is reaching retirement age. According to MSN Money, by 2030, 20 percent of the US population will be over 65, and the number of 85-year-olds and 100-year-olds will double or triple. Many of these people will need nursing care services.

Nursing homes will need more funding in order to keep up with these changes in demographics. If funding continues to decline, there will be less nursing homes available to take care of the number of patients needing nursing care services, and those homes that are open will not be able to hire enough staff to take care of the patients.