Pennsylvania Nursing Home Reforms Discussed by Senate Democrats:

On November 5, members of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee hosted a virtual public hearing on Pennsylvania nursing home reforms, according to

Senator Katie Muth (D- Berks/Chester/Montgomery), Chair of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Policy Committee, and state Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), Caucus Chair, heard a number of testimonies regarding the need for funding and staffing reforms in PA homes.

Among the testifiers at the hearing were CARIE executive director Diane Menio, Leading Age PA senior vice president and chief government affairs officer Anne Henry,  Pam Walz of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, Tyreika Tate, a dietary aide from Walnut Creek Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Erie, PA, and SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania president Matt Yarnell.

Intended to discuss matters such as staffing issues, quality of care, work conditions, and staff wages, the discussion also sought potential ways of improving transparency in the ways funds are used by homes and to ensure more money goes toward wage funding and direct care.

As Pennsylvania nursing home reforms were discussed by senate democrats, a prominent topic of conversation was nursing home staffing issues; the state was called upon to take measures to ensure increased staffing, improved working conditions, and higher wages.

“In a world where Amazon and Wawa are paying $15 an hour, we can’t expect nursing home staff to do some of the most demanding and difficult work in the Commonwealth for $12 an hour,” said Yarnell. “We need to ensure decent working conditions for caregivers.”

“When workers feel like we are so disrespected, and simply don’t earn enough money to stay on the job and can find other less stressful work – then you understand the seeds of this short-staffing crisis,” said Tate, who has worked at Erie’s Walnut Creek Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center for 36 years.

In his testimony Yarnell applauded the PA Department of Health’s proposed revisions to nursing home regulations, which, among other changes, look to increase the minimum amount of direct nursing care from 2.7 to 4.1 hours per resident per day. But, he said, regulation alone isn’t enough to address a crisis in Pennsylvania nursing home care that long predated the pandemic.

“Nursing homes are largely funded by taxpayer dollars,” said Yarnell, “and comprehensive reform will require a new approach to nursing home funding.”

Yarnell’s proposed new approach to funding would consist of two components: increased resources to achieve more staffing, better working conditions, and higher wages, and strong accountability measures to ensure that resources are directed toward resident care.

  • Increased Resources-Yarnell calls for a permanent rate increase for long-term reform. He says SEIU estimates a required investment of $350 million per year from the state, matched by federal Medicaid funding for a total investment of around $700 million.
  • Accountability Measures-SEIU requests the Pennsylvania follow the lead of such states as New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts, who have implemented a nursing home industry care percentage. Yarnell suggests that PA requiring facilities spend at least 75 cents out of every dollar of revenue on resident care.

Yarnell said he feels the accountability requirement should be of particular interest to the public, since the  majority  of  nursing  home  funding comes from taxpayers via Medicare and Medicaid.

“In an industry where most nursing facilities are for-profit, and private equity plays a growing role, it is vital to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent on resident care, not corporate profits,” said Yarnell. “Too often, we’ve seen money intended for resident care siphoned off to pay for inflated rents, related-party transactions and executive bonuses.”

Both Muth and Fontana acknowledged the need to address necessary nursing home reforms, and considered the public hearing just the beginning of what will be an ongoing dialog.

“Pennsylvania’s nursing homes are some of the most expensive in the US, yet many are struggling to remain afloat financially, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded and added to the many difficulties facing our nursing homes and their employees,” Muth said.

“It is imperative that long-term drastic changes need to take place in terms of adequate staffing ratios that pay living wages as well as comprehensive funding reform on various levels,” Fontana added. “We have an obligation to not only to the dedicated employees of these care facilities but also to provide safe and quality living conditions to the residents.”

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