Nursing homes in Wisconsin closing as costs rise

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Nursing home providers say Medicaid reimbursement rates may have contributed to an increase in nursing home closures in Wisconsin last year.

Ten long-term care facilities closed in Wisconsin last year, compared with six closures in 2016, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Providers told Wisconsin Public Radio that reimbursement rates aren't keeping pace with the cost to provide care.

"The average facility loses $1 million a year for the Medicaid residents that we serve," said John Vander Meer, the executive director of the Wisconsin Health Care Association.

Douglas County nursing homes lost $2.3 million from 2015 to 2016, while Bayfield County's sole nursing home lost $811,000 during that time period.

The state's current budget will raise reimbursement rates for skilled nursing facilities by 2 percent each year.

Bayfield County Administrator Mark Abeles-Allison said they'd like to see a 5 percent reimbursement rate.

"The combination of an increased population and lower reimbursements combined with a tremendous number of nursing homes going out of business really has us worried," said Abeles-Allison.

The rates are also affecting facilities' ability to recruit and retain workers. An industry survey of almost 690 providers found 11,500 unfilled caregiver positions across the state in 2016, Vander Meer said.

"We are not in a position to be able to offer competitive wages compared to convenience stores, big box retailers and fast food services," he said.

The state has almost 390 licensed nursing homes, according to the state Health Department.

The state Health Department has launched the WisCare Caregiver Career Program in response to the nurse aide shortage. The program will invest $2.3 million to attract and retain around 3,000 nurse aides.

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