By Jacquelyn M. McCarthy/Guest Columnist
Bethany Health Care Center, a Sponsored Ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph, has been providing exceptional care to MetroWest and our neighbors in the surrounding area since 1991.
We are fortunate to have compassionate RNs, LPNs, Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) and other frontline workers who selflessly help to make sure our residents have quality care while they reside here. I say selflessly for a reason. Yes, they are paid to provide the care. But many don’t earn a living wage and struggle to support their own families. They stay when they could make more at a hospital or service sector job. They stay because they are compassionate and have become attached to the residents they care for.
Why can’t we pay our dedicated staff more? It’s a fair question. Here’s why; the reimbursement we receive, primarily from the government, does not adequately meet the cost of care for frail elders and disabled individuals. Seventy-five cents of every dollar we receive goes directly towards paying front line staff wages and benefits. The rest is applied to other operating and capital costs including supplies, utilities and maintenance expenses. Our ability to increase wages depends on state funding, since 89 percent of our residents have their care paid for by the state’s Medicaid program, MassHealth. But Medicaid funding for nursing facilities is well below what it costs to care for our residents. At Bethany, we lose $20 per day per patient. That’s about $3,000 a day or $1.1 million a year. The level of reimbursement has remained largely flat for nearly 10 years but, just like everything else in life, the cost of providing quality care has increased.
We need additional state funding for wages so that we can retain our caregivers and provide them with a chance for advancement. Without consistent and meaningful wage increases many of our staff will leave. And who can blame them. We can’t rely on their goodwill forever when they struggle to feed their own families.
There are solutions. Legislators are considering two legislative proposals. One bill — the Nursing Home Stabilization bill — calls for investment in nursing facility care by seeking to more adequately fund the cost of care for Medicaid residents. In addition, it would fund scholarships for our workers, and increased training to allow them to advance their careers. The second bill — the Quality Jobs for Quality Care bill — calls for an immediate $90 million investment for the over 400 nursing facility provider community that would go directly to wage increases for our nearly 80,000 valuable workers.
It’s personal to me. Bethany employs 200 dedicated workers who care for about 168 residents. We are driven by a mission to serve and provide the best possible care for our residents. To do that, we need to show our workers that we believe in them and their ability to succeed. And we need to show them that we value them by compensating them appropriately. That would benefit everyone.
Sister Jacquelyn M. McCarthy,CSJ R.N. is the CEO/administrator at Bethany Health Care Center in Framingham.