Editorial: Nebraska needs to find ways to address nursing home challenges – Omaha World Herald


Good Samaritan Society-Arapahoe nursing home and assisted living closed Dec. 31. Residents had 60 days to move out starting Nov 1.


Last Sunday, The World-Herald published a heart-wrenching story about the impact of closing a rural nursing home.

Centered in Arapahoe, Nebraska, the story described how Heidi Thomas had made arrangements to care for her husband at their home following the recent closing of the town’s Good Samaritan Society assisted living and nursing home.

Alan Thomas has Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia, which can lead to problems with thinking, movement, behavior and mood. Heidi is a special education teacher who had worked on weekends in the nursing home so the couple could see each other regularly during COVID-19 restrictions.

When Good Samaritan closed in Arapahoe, residents had just two months to find new facilities in other towns, often many miles from family and friends. The closing also prompted uncertainty and concern among local residents, including those in a retirement community in town, who wondered where they or their loved ones would be able to go if they became ill or needed nursing assistance.

For the Thomases, the answer was to bring Alan home to their house, which has been modified to accommodate his needs.

World-Herald staff writer Emily Nitcher and photojournalist Eileen Meslar told the couple’s story and their ongoing challenges. And their reporting also reminded readers that policy issues such as Medicaid reimbursements for nursing homes carry real-world impacts for our state and our communities.

It’s the sort of important, touching, meaningful story that World-Herald readers should expect from us, and which our reporters, photographers and editors work hard to provide. Thank you for your support as we continue to do that.

In this case, our reporting shines a light on the need for state and federal policymakers to find ways to help such facilities as they deal with financial issues and staffing shortages.

In 2021, closures of assisted living and nursing home facilities happened in Arapahoe, Valentine, Tecumseh, Ravenna and Omaha.

Nebraska had 225 licensed long-term care facilities in May 2016, according to state officials. The most recent report listed 206 facilities, and their struggles are continuing.

On the financial front, state Medicaid payment rates have fallen further and further below operating costs. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts successfully sought federal government approval to allow the state to boost rates by $20 per day per resident for the first half of 2022. Still, that’s only about half of what’s needed to close the funding gap.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the labor market and has made it hard for nursing homes to hire enough people, contributing to the closings. It’s part of a concerning issue throughout the health care industry, with nurses leaving the profession and nursing schools not getting enough new students to enter their training programs.

Among the responses have been a new $2.2 million federal grant for the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing to reduce burnout among nurses, and a bill in the Nebraska Legislature to allocate $50 million of the state’s federal pandemic recovery funds to give bonus pay for frontline nurses.

For rural nursing homes, the problem is particularly acute as smaller towns have trouble recruiting workers to rural areas, and an aging population creates growing demand for nursing care beds.

Unless the issues are addressed, Nebraska families will face more and more challenging situations like the ones described in last week’s story.

“There’s an Alan Thomas in every community,” his wife said in the article.

Omaha leadership has the recipe for a lovely omelet, but we must deal with the broken eggs. 

Many years, many lawsuits, environmental reviews and untold millions of dollars separate Ricketts’ announcement from a functioning canal.

Nebraska legislators must focus on fiscal responsibility and public safety. These are not mutually exclusive goals, and neither will be achieved by building a new quarter-billion-dollar prison.

Signs of trafficking might include a person who seems dressed inadequately for the weather, who seems fearful, anxious and submissive, deferring to someone else in conversation.

In a short legislative session, whose agenda includes allocating huge sums of COVID relief money in addition to perennial, complex issues, this is the definition of a waste of time.

Tourism is the state’s third largest industry, and it benefits all Nebraskans, directly or indirectly. It pours money in the economy, strengthens our cities and helps sustain small businesses in our towns.

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Gov. Pete Ricketts and Attorney General Doug Peterson, who chose to sue Huse as hospitals fill and COVID deaths rise, should follow the lead of Mayor Jean Stothert. Stothert opposes this mask mandate but recognizes Huse’s authority.

How many voter fraud cases has a database turned up in Nebraska in 30 or more years covered? Two. Total. That’s all.

A part of the solution lies in the issues leaders choose to tackle.

People in public life, from school administrators and teachers to the president, face growing vitriol. Criticism comes with the territory. Threats should not. 

To attract more workers to Omaha or Hastings or anywhere else, people must be able to find suitable housing.

Folks, what’s wrong with us?

For the year ahead, more COVID, a bitter election and a Husker bowl game. We think.

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