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CARA GUSTAFSON — This Skilled Nurses Week, let’s provide long-term care with long-term support

In the last year, nurses across the country have faced a level of uncertainty they’ve never experienced before.

When COVID-19 began to spread without warning, nurses suddenly had to put their own health and safety at risk to provide care and prevent the spread of the virus.

As “non-essential” visitors were prohibited from entering the nursing homes, the nurses and other direct care staff not only acted as direct care providers but also served in the roles of family, friend, sympathizer, and advocate.

Now, as we celebrate National Skilled Nursing Care Week (May 9 -15) in 2021, we should ask ourselves how we can celebrate skilled nurses every week, from the panhandle to the Valley, to the gulf coast, and here in central Texas.

While we celebrate our health care heroes with car parades, lunches, flowers, or a personal thank-you note, we can also do more.

Let’s draw on the lessons from the tragic, difficult year we have just experienced and make a real difference for the profession.

Before the legislature adjourns at the end of May, let’s ask lawmakers to maintain the current funding increase for 1,200 Texas nursing homes beyond the expiration of the Public Health Emergency (PHE) and preserve the funding that has allowed them to operate through COVID.

We all want COVID to be a distant memory that makes us think of Zoom calls and face masks, fogged-up glasses, and a lack of personal contact.

However, just because the PHE ends, doesn’t mean that COVID infection prevention or the virus’ overall impact on the long-term health care sector ends.

Without Texas legislators stepping in, nursing homes across the state will not be able to effectively compete in the labor market and maintain direct care staff, improve upon training and mentorship programs, or ensure the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) is readily available in the event of an unforeseen communicable disease outbreak.

In addition, they will struggle to maintain the regulatory requirements expected to continue based upon what’s been learned over the past year.

We have all seen the coverage of what organizations and individuals have deemed as “wrongdoings” by nursing homes to prevent COVID-19 from entering their facilities.

These facilities have been blamed time and again for COVID-19 outbreaks, when in reality studies indicate that community spread is the top factor for outbreaks within a nursing home.

Legislators have a duty to “vote their district” – understandably so. It is the citizens of their districts who elect them, support them, and shape their policy.

But voting for their district must include voting for their growing elderly population, which is happening statewide. By 2050, Texans age 60 and older will comprise 22 percent of the total Texas population.

We all have parents, grandparents, siblings, uncles, aunts and friends in nursing homes. Wouldn’t we want the very best for our loved ones in their final years who need round-the-clock care? Don’t we want the very best for those in nursing homes now?

 

Let’s make every week Skilled Nursing Care Week.

Let’s invest in these health care heroes and protect them when they go to work to protect our loved ones. Let’s show nursing homes we care by providing adequate resources to help them compete in the labor market and to cover the cost of resident care.

Let’s show facilities the respect they deserve and recognize their everyday struggles. Let’s support them through their daily challenges, the way they support our vulnerable, elderly loved ones in nursing homes.

The men and women in these facilities have helped build our great state. Let’s make certain the residents and their families know how much they are appreciated and how much we appreciate those who provide daily care.

We are asking state legislators to do the right thing and extend the funding. Show nurses that you care for them during Skilled Nursing Care Week as well as the other 51 weeks out of the year.

 

Cara Gustafson is the spokeswoman for United in Care, a nonprofit organization founded with the goal of maintaining the emergency funding increase for the long-term care profession.

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