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Our care for the elderly: How long can this go on?

Spencer Beard

The holiday season is one of the busiest times of the year for families. It is also historically one of busiest times for nursing home and assisted living services.

Many families will visit with their mother, father, grandpa, and grandma over the holidays.

This is when family members begin to notice that their loved ones are not getting around as easily as they used to or their overall health has decreased.

The family takes the time to start discussing options for their loved one. Do we have them visit a nursing home, assisted living, independent living with optional services, or home health services?

Many, if not all, of the community members I talk to do not know what the services above really include.

I largely believe this because in the elder health care world, you don't think about us until you need us.

Unfortunately, unless there has been an unlucky event at a nursing or assisted living facility, they rarely ever make the news for the great things that actually go on inside them.

During this holiday season when you may need a nursing home or assisted living, you should also know they very much need you.

Right now in Wisconsin, there is a great need to reform the funding and regulatory policy.

The great need for this is in correlation for nursing homes and assisted livings to be able to hire and retain the employees needed to take care of your loved ones.

Currently 1 in 7 direct caregiver positions in Wisconsin's nursing and assisted living facilities are vacant.

What that should mean to you is how well are these facilities being able to take care of our community members, your loved ones?

Some facilities are not being affected by the staffing crisis in Wisconsin, but all are being affected by the unsustainable funding and extreme regulatory environment.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau-Joint Committee on Finance states that nursing homes and assisted livings that our community members live in are funded over 60% by Medicaid.

According to Leading Age of Wisconsin, the average Wisconsin nursing facility in 2014-15 lost $55.89 per day for each Medicaid resident they served, for an average annual Medicaid loss of more than $1.1 million.

This makes us the worst state in the nation for Medicaid funding.

How this should affect the way you think is that nursing and assisted living facilities are struggling to provide health care services for our community members and loved ones. The inability to pay staff members appropriate and competitive wages due to lack of funding is causing undue hardships to facilities all around the state.

The hardships occurring in many facilities are due to several reasons: Lack of staffing; a decrease in the number of qualified nursing and caregiver staff; and in extreme but increasingly common cases, facility closures.

During this holiday season I ask you keep nursing and assisted living facilities in your thoughts.

If you are concerned about your community's ability to take care of our elder population, please contact your local facilities and ask how to help.

The best thing we can do is contact Wisconsin District 93 Assemblyman Warren Petryk and Wisconsin 10th District Senator Sheila Hardsdorf with your concerns.

Warren can be reached at 608-266-0660 and Sheila at 608-266-7745. Have a happy and safe holiday.

Editor's note: Spencer Beard, 26, lives in Hudson but grew up in Hager City while attending Ellsworth High school. After attending UW-Eau Claire, he worked with Mayo Clinic Health System and then led a skilled nursing facility north of Madison in Columbus. This past year he's been executive director of The Lutheran Home in River Falls, which is in the process of closing.