Nursing home advocates urge state to fund Medicaid shortfall

By Michael Hill

Nursing home workers rallied on the steps of the Capitol Annex urging the state to raise the Medicaid reimbursement rate to facilities for better pay and better care.

Among their supporters braving mid-90 temperatures was 93-year-old Julia Grimes, a resident of Holly Manor in Mendham.

“I am fortunate to still be able to do some things for myself, and when I need help I know that the nurses and nurse’s aides are only a few steps away,” she said.

Union leaders say nearly two-thirds of New Jersey’s 46,000 nursing home residents rely on Medicaid for their care. They cite a study that shows New Jersey has the third biggest Medicaid reimbursement shortfall at $354 million a year, or about 35 dollars per bed per day, according to the American Health Care Association. Lawmakers propose a $32 million increase in next year’s budget to earn a federal match.

This coalition of residents, workers and lawmakers says it has one purpose.

“To ensure that New Jersey invests in quality care for the people who need it most,” said Milly Silva, executive vice president of 1199SEIU. “Our state’s budget is a reflection of our state’s values and it is crucial that the most vulnerable people in our communities are not overlooked or underserved.”

“As my good friend Elijah Cummings from Maryland would say, ‘We don’t have a fiscal resource gap, we have an empathy gap,” said Larry Lane, vice president of government relations at Genesis HealthCare.

Health care workers say the job is becoming more challenging because residents admitted to nursing homes are older and have more needs than a decade or two ago.

“Without proper funding how can we give proper care?” asked Yesenia Lafleche.

“All of you have chosen a profession that we cannot compensate you enough for, we cannot compensate you enough for. You do God’s work,” Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter said.

“You have a commitment from me to work with your union that we’re going to fix these things. We’re adding money this year into the budget, but we’re also going to fix this going forward with a new administration,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.

Some of the Democratic leaders in the Legislature came to lend their support to the health care workers, one even became emotional.

“My mother passed away two years ago,” Assembly Budget Chair Gary Schaer said.

Schaer says the fight is personal for him.

“This is a very difficult budget process. I would love to tell you right now that we found a billion dollars and it’s all going to you. So the bad news is we didn’t find a billion dollars,” he said.

Lawmakers have until June 30 to approve a new budget for the next fiscal year that begins July 1.