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Study finds pandemic added challenges for Iowa's nursing homes

A new report has found 23 Iowa nursing homes have closed or announced they're closing since the beginning of 2022.
A new report has found 23 Iowa nursing homes have closed or announced they're closing since the beginning of 2022.

A new report found that as Iowa’s senior population continues to grow, the state’s nursing homes are facing growing financial and staffing challenges.

The report by LeadingAge Iowa, a group that represents non-profit providers of aging services, found the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated long-standing industry challenges like workforce shortages, increasing costs and low reimbursement rates from Medicaid and Medicare.

Since the start of the pandemic, the overall workforce for aging service providers has shrunk nearly 12% as Iowa's workforce overall has grown 2%.

Nursing home costs have increased by 15% in that same time frame and patient care revenues haven't caught up.

Matt Jahn, the director of health services at Stonehill Communities in Dubuque, said his facility has a long waiting list and hasn’t been able to open closed units due to inadequate staff.

"Because of the continued staffing shortages and the reimbursement challenges to pay more competitive wages for all of our caregivers. We're kind of at a standstill with being able to move ahead and continue to serve more Iowans that need care," he said.

According to the report, 23 nursing homes in Iowa have closed or announced they plan to close since the beginning of 2022.

Julie Thorson, the president and CEO of Friendship Haven in Fort Dodge, said some of the closed facilities have been close to her nursing home, but they've struggled to take in residents.

She said one of the issues they struggle with is inadequate reimbursement rates from Medicaid and Medicare.

"We have a neighborhood or what some might refer to as a unit that we're anxious to reopen. But we're doing that very slowly due to the staffing needs. So that's why reimbursement is so important," Thorson said.

She said they've tried to get creative to attract the staff they need, but in order to do so, they've had to increase resident rates.

"We have done everything from you know the basic — raise wages, of course, and then offer many bonuses, whether it's thank you bonuses or COVID bonuses," Thorson said.

The 65 and older age group is the fastest growing in the state. Just over half of this age group is estimated to need aging services in their lifetime.

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter