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Governor's cuts to Medicade worry providers

Kevin Jorgensen, the administrator of Careage of Whidbey, speaks with resident Anna Martell after a musical presentation. Also pictured are Mary Salzwedel, at far left, and Florence Johnson, at right. -
Kevin Jorgensen, the administrator of Careage of Whidbey, speaks with resident Anna Martell after a musical presentation. Also pictured are Mary Salzwedel, at far left, and Florence Johnson, at right.
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If Gov. Gary Locke gets his way on state budget cuts, the guys who run a couple of Whidbey Island’s biggest nursing homes say they’ll no longer be able to care for Medicaid patients.

Since about half the patients at Whidbey Island Manor and Careage of Whidbey are on Medicaid, that would mean about 70 of the island’s most fragile residents would have to leave the island and try to find a care facilities elsewhere.

With the state facing its worst budget crisis in 20 years, Locke proposed a revised budget with $566 million in cuts, including the elimination of 440 state jobs and dozens of programs.

One of the most unpopular parts of his plan among social-service advocates is the proposed $35 million cut in nursing home payments. Lost federal matching funds would increase the total loss to more than $69 million.

Kevin Jorgensen of the Careage of Whidbey said the proposal would amount to an average reduction of $15 a day for each Medicaid patient. With about 50 Medicaid patients, Jorgensen said the nursing home would lose nearly $25,000 a month.

“We cannot afford that kind of cut,” he said. “Medicaid is a system where there is currently no profit. It just barely pays for the care.”

In fact, Mark Wiggins, the owner of Whidbey Island Manor, said he’s already losing money on the home’s 20 patients who rely on Medicaid. He says he ends up paying $8 a patient per day over and above what Medicaid reimburses for nursing care.

For nursing homes, Wiggins says Medicaid historically has had “incredibly fragile financial status” and is long overdue for a realistic infusion of funding. Wiggins points to the Department of Social and Health Services’ own numbers to show that the shortfall in Medicaid reimbursements averages $8.60 per patient each day.

A cut to Medicaid, he says, would be catastrophic.

“There’s a high probability,” he said, “that there won’t be a nursing home on the island if his plan passes.”

The Washington Health Care Association, which represents many nursing homes in the state, is lobbying hard against Locke’s proposed cuts. The group estimates that the proposal would result in the elimination of 3,341 caregiver positions, or over a third of the nursing home workforce.

“It is likely that the resulting rate decreases from this proposal will result in facility closures which will impact our clients due to the necessity to relocate,” WHCA administrators wrote in a letter to Locke. “It is also likely that some facilities will incur care problems due to the cut in direct care resources.”

The good news, on the other hand, is that both Jorgensen and Wiggins have spoken to several state Legislators, including Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano), who’ve been supportive of nursing homes.

Rep. Barry Sehlin (R-Oak Harbor) says the governor’s proposed budget, with the 12 to 13 percent cut for senior citizen programs, “represents a huge misplaced priority.”

“These folks don’t have any alternatives,” Sehlin said. “People who require nursing home care aren’t people who can go out and get a second job. They have no choices.”

Sehlin said the legislature is working on prioritizing the budget in order to decide where cuts are most appropriate. While he says nursing homes should be among the highest of priorities, he proposes doing away with the state employees’ scheduled salary increase.

The governor’s budget doesn’t address cuts to the employees’ “significant across the board pay increases,” Sehlin said, which would go a long ways toward balancing the budget.

Yet at this point, Sehlin is optimistic.

“I’m very hopeful,” he said, “that the legislature will not accept the cuts the governor proposed for nursing homes.”

Community Events, April 2014

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