• Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector

Kansas’ long-term care facilities beg for help with ‘price-gouging’ staffing agencies

Eudora Republican Sen. Beverly Gossage, left, questioned the need for the Legislature to intervene in the health care marketplace to block what critics called “price gouging” for healthcare workers. (Kansas Reflector screen capture of Kansas Legislature YouTube channel)

House member’s answer: Slash CNA training to quickly grow workforce

TOPEKA — A pair of Kansas organizations representing frail and elderly service providers urged a joint House and Senate committee to reign in aggressive pricing by temporary staffing agencies taking advantage of a health care workforce crisis.

Rachel Monger, chief advocacy officer of LeadingAge Kansas, said staffing companies were charging Medicaid providers more than triple the typical rate for essential workers. Agencies taking part in “price gouging” were engaged in restrictive labor practices to limit ability of workers to be hired by a provider full time, she said.

“Without new oversight and reforms, the out-of-control costs and restrictive practices of temporary staffing agencies will continue to drain taxpayer dollars and the assets of elderly people in Kansas,” Monger said. “Our long term care system is collapsing under the weight of high costs and low staff. It is hurting the quality and availability of services in our communities.”

Haely Ordoyne, legislative chair of the Kansas Adult Care Executives Association, said four or five nursing homes were closing or losing certification each quarter in Kansas. Most closing their doors were rural, high-level care homes, she said.

She told members of the Home and Community Based Services and KanCare Oversight Committee about results of a survey of 55 adult care home providers in the state. It showed 47.3 percent reported employee wage and benefit increases of more than 25 percent in the past year and 14.5 percent had increases of more than 50 percent.

She said supplemental staffing agencies had to be held accountable, Medicaid rates should be elevated to meet the actual cost of services and direct financial support from the state should be on the table for discussion.

“Part of our latest federal regulations call for a heavy focus on preventing trauma,” Ordoyne said. “If legislation is not passed that helps support homes to stay open, do you think that will contribute to the trauma of the seniors of our great state?”

Slash staff training hours

Eudora Sen. Beverly Gossage, El Dorado Rep. Will Carpenter and Wichita Rep. Brenda Landwehr, all Republicans on the House-Senate oversight committee, expressed reservations about the Legislature wading into the private labor market on behalf of nursing home operators.

However, Rep. Susan Concannon, a Beloit Republican, argued price gouging by health care temp agencies was occurring. She said the health care system couldn’t be viewed as a textbook example of free market activity because much of the elder care business was tied to government mandates and financing.

Landwehr, chairwoman of the joint House-Senate committee, said the Legislature was in a better position to assist facilities with staffing shortages by slashing required training for certified nurse assistants in Kansas from 90 hours to 75 hours.

Landwehr proposed introduction of a bill in 2023 revising downward training hours mandated of CNAs in Kansas. She anticipated opposition to adopting the minimum set by the federal government.

“People are going to have to get off their turf-battle stances,” Landwehr said. “We’ve got to make changes because we’ve got to figure out how to increase this workforce. We’re going to have this discussion in every area of health care whether people like it or don’t like it.”

Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, said removing 15 hours of training wouldn’t guarantee hiring of well-qualified persons to care for people with mobility challenges, dementia and other complex medical issues.

“We have heard that there could be maybe danger to residents as well as staff,” Ballard said.

Landwehr’s reply: “It doesn’t mean we’re losing quality. It means Kansas was sitting too high. Why in the world are we sitting here at 90 hours with the feds at 75?”

She said organizations or individuals who fight reduction in CNA training reform would end up “dying on that hill.”

‘Lives on the line’

Dan Goodman, executive director of Kansas Advocates for Better Care, said in an interview all sorts of health care, advocacy and education interests should be involved in legislative discussions about rolling back training standards for CNAs.

“If you’re looking at quality and looking at long-term sustainability you look at raising the bar instead of lowering it,” Goodman said.

Monger, the advocacy officer with LeadingAge Kansas, said Kansas’ workforce woes deepened during the past three years. It existed before the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, but the virus that has killed nearly 10,000 Kansans made it all worse.

She said providers of services to the elderly couldn’t be compared to a barber shop, grocery store or manufacturing plant struggling to hire qualified workers.

“Long term care does not have the option of cutting hours or hanging up a closed sign on the door,” she said. “They are 24/7 businesses with thousands of resident lives on the line.”

LeadingAge Kansas is an association of 160 entities operating retirement communities, hospital units, assisted living, home health agencies, community-based service programs and nursing homes. Members of the association employ more than 20,000 people across the state and serve nearly 25,000 seniors each day.

This article was used by permission from the Kansas Reflector. The Kansas Reflector is a non-profit online news organization serving Kansas. For more information on the organization, go to its website at www.kansasreflector.com.

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