Before opening the door to see a nursing home resident at Ridgecrest Community Care Center in West Monroe, nurses don a mask, gloves and gown. If there are any face shields available, they put them on, too.
After checking on the resident, they remove each item one by one and toss it into a medical waste bin. Then they would head to the next room and go through the same process. Mask, gloves, gown, repeat.
According to Lisa Gardner, vice president of provider relations and marketing for CommCare Management Corporation, the nonprofit in charge of Ridgecrest, all that added up.
“It’s not just like somebody had one pair of gloves or one one mask,” said Gardner. “It was constantly changing.”
Those financial struggles are common, according to industry groups.
With increased costs due to the pandemic, like personal protective equipment, the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living found that the majority of American nursing homes are operating at a loss, according to a 2021 survey.
Meanwhile, only a quarter of nursing homes and assisted living communities are sure they can stay in business for at least a year, according to Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living.
“Even though COVID cases in long term care are at historic lows, providers are struggling to recover from the economic crisis the pandemic has induced,” Parkinson said. “Too many facilities are operating under shoestring budgets simply because policymakers have failed to dedicate the proper resources, and this can have devastating consequences.”
With Monroe and West Monroe as a nursing home hub for the rest of Ouachita Parish, the consequences of losing facilities would prove dire for the elderly population of Northeast Louisiana. However, while nursing homes across Ouachita Parish were not immune to COVID-19 or its financial strain, the future doesn’t look too grim.
How Ouachita Parish nursing homes were financially impacted by COVID-19
Bonnie Whitaker, nursing facility administrator for Ouachita Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, said their facility will “absolutely” remain open for at least one year. The same goes for Avalon Place of Monroe and Ridgecrest Community Care Center.
Each facility saw 126, 62 and 79 total resident COVID-19 cases respectively by May 26, 2021, as reported by the Louisiana Department of Health. The three facilities also have not seen any new cases all summer.
Still, the American Health Care Association study found that the top three costs nursing homes had were personal protective equipment, additional staff pay and new staff hires, regardless of whether facilities had COVID-19 cases.
CommCare Management Corporation said that when comparing annual pre-COVID expenses to COVID expenses, medical waste went up 500%, medical supplies increased 200% and oxygen went up 500%. The cost for COVID testing went up 1000%, translating to “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Gardner said. She said conference rooms were stuffed with boxes of personal protective equipment and testing materials.
To account for employee shortages due to those refusing to work due to fear of contracting COVID and employees becoming sick, CommCare hired a recruiter. As part of the relaxed regulations during the pandemic, CommCare was allowed to hire uncertified nurse assistants, but the company had to employ a trainer to get them certified. With new hires, labor adaptations and overtime costs, CommCare found their labor costs increased 16%.
Those labor costs do not include nurses CommCare contracted through agencies, which they had never utilized before the pandemic.
Matthew Hall, administrator for Avalon Place, said they underwent similar experiences during the height of their COVID-19 cases.
“We don’t have any staffing issues anymore, but when we had some COVID positive employees, it was hard to find employees or cover shifts,” Hall said.
CommCare said they continue to face staffing challenges. Additionally, Gardner said COVID-19 costs were not the only burden this past year, given the inclement weather that has affected their locations across the state.
Hall said Avalon Place did not incur as much of an expense due to personal protective equipment because they received provisions from the state. Had they not, “it would have been a huge cost,” Hall said.
Gardner and CommCare benefitted from its nonprofit status, which allowed facilities to get funds through stimulus money and the Paycheck Protection Program.
“That’s one thing that has helped us financially,” Gardner said. “But if we had not had the Payroll Protection money and other stimulus funds, we would not be solvent.”
Gardner said CommCare also found it could adapt to the pandemic because it had built three new facilities in 2020, meaning they could quarantine residents easier using the increased capacity.
The American Health Care Association study said the nursing home industry will lose an estimated $94 billion. Almost 2,000 facilities across the country could close, leaving the vulnerable and the elderly to find other means of care.