By Chris Lisinski


STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, APRIL 4, 2019......Almost three dozen nursing homes across Massachusetts are at risk of closing this year, threatening the ability of senior citizens to access needed care, an industry group warned.

In recent months, 20 facilities have shuttered, and another 35 could do so by the end of the year if lawmakers do not act to close a $360 million annual funding gap, according to the Massachusetts Senior Care Association.

MassHealth allocated an additional $25 million last fall to stabilize nursing homes, but the MSCA called for additional investment ahead of a Joint Committee on Elder Affairs hearing scheduled for Monday.

"It is crucial that we continue this important progress and address the growing nursing facility workforce and funding crisis, which impacts all nursing facilities — not-for-profit, for profit and family owned," MSCA President Tara Gregorio said in a statement. "However, significantly more is needed in order to prevent many regions of the state from losing core facilities."

Last month, Health and Human Secretary Marylou Sudders told lawmakers at a budget hearing in Needham that "additional closures" were expected at nursing homes, though she did not specify a number.

A combination of an aging population, greater interest in assisted living rather than nursing homes, and a decline in federal support has created a "perfect storm," Sudders said. State officials at the hearing said Medicare funding for Massachusetts nursing homes has dropped about $300 million since 2011.

The MSCA, which represents more than 400 facilities, pointed to what the group described as deficiencies in the state's model. Because MassHealth uses cost estimates from 2007 for reimbursements, the group said, homes are consistently underfunded. Each year, the gap between Medicaid funding and MSCA projections of the cost of quality care is about $360 million, or more than $1 million per home, according to the association.

The group urged lawmakers to support bills set to come up at the committee's 1 p.m. hearing on Monday, H 610 and S 352, that would modernize the formula and grant additional support for nursing homes.

"We are advocating for an update in MassHealth nursing facility funding using more current 2017 resident care and labor costs in order to ensure that facilities have the necessary resources to ensure quality resident care," Gregorio said. "This update would add just $70 million to the budget, and half of it would be funded by the federal government."

Half of the communities in Massachusetts are at risk of being at maximum capacity if one facility closes, the association said, and 70 percent of nursing home residents rely on MassHealth to pay for their care.