Billings Gazette: Tester calls on governor and Legislature to act on nursing home crisis

by Tom Lutey

With an unprecedented closing of nearly a dozen Montana nursing homes, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester is calling on the state’s governor and Legislature to act, namely by supplementing federal funds.

During a recent Billings stop, the three-term Democratic senator said that if the state doesn’t act, nursing home closures are likely to continue. On the federal side of the matter, Tester said he’s working to lower nursing home staffing requirements, which are key for complying with Medicaid certification. Medicaid funding has become so essential to nursing homes that those out of compliance often close.

Tester was on his way to Miles City, where Friendship Villa, a 36-resident nursing home announced Dec. 6 it was closing. Several of Friendship Villa’s staff left to work at the Veteran’s Affairs Clinic in Miles City, which pays better. The VA clinic was reopening after a staffing shortage earlier this year forced its closure.

“You got another issue with the (Friendship Villa) that just announced yesterday that it closed down. That issue has a lot to do with some of the issues around (Medicaid) and staffing requirements that are on the horizon that we’re trying to beat back,” Tester said.

“It also has to do with the state match for (Medicaid) funds. It’s not adequate. The state Legislature’s meeting. I think they need to bump those matching funds up so that these folks have the money to be able to stay in business,” he added. “We’ve lost, I believe, 11 nursing homes in the state of Montana over the last year or so. That’s a real problem. And by the way, those folks, when they close, it’s going to be a hard time ever opening them up again.”

Roughly 16% of Montana’s nursing homes have closed in 2022. Eight of those nursing homes are owned by Lantis Enterprises. When the Miles City nursing home closed, Lantis Chief Operating Officer Wendy Soulek told Montana Lee Newspapers that the company was beaten down. She didn’t know where the nursing home’s patients were going to go, citing a bed shortage that extended to Billings.

Gov. Greg Gianforte’s proposed 2023 budget includes $21 million to supplement Medicaid payments for nursing home stays. That funding is one-time only. The state Department of Health and Human Services suggests the elderly attempt to stay at home, which is what surveys show most prefer. That pivot to in-home care for Montana seniors paying for nursing homes with Medicaid is a significant transition requiring a sizable state investment, professionals say.

Tester calls on governor and Legislature to act on nursing home crisis (