Strange Math: More Seniors But Fewer Nursing Homes

Let’s look at the numbers: By 2030, 20 percent of the U.S. population will be at least 65, up from 13 percent today. The number of 85-year-olds will increase more than 50 percent. But the number of nursing homes dropped almost 9 percent from 2000 to 2009 and the number of under-construction nursing home units declined by a third from 20007 to 2011.

What’s wrong with this picture?

An in-depth analysis of the coming nursing home shortage by The Fiscal Times and the Kaiser Family Foundation has turned up some bleak news. As reported last week:

The latest casualty of the Great Recession may soon be the nation’s elderly. Cuts in government payments for patient care and less construction of nursing homes are already taking a toll. Add to this the aging baby boom generation and you have a worst-case scenario in which older people who need full-time care won’t be able to get it.

The recent economic downturn has made getting private financing for new nursing home construction tougher. “I cannot tell you of anyone who has actually developed a new skilled nursing facility in at least the last five years in California,” Edward Steinfeldt, a consultant to developers of retirement housing and health care, told the Fiscal Times.

The picture is not pretty. Existing nursing homes are struggling, losing money on patients whose stays are covered by state-run Medicaid programs, which pay for long-term care for those patients who have run out of money. A report by the American Health Care Association found that last year, nursing homes lost as least $20 per Medicaid resident per day nationwide — a record total loss of $6.3 billion nationally.

The government has also cut its reimbursement rates by 11 percent for Medicare patients released from hospitals to nursing homes who need short-term care to recover from injuries or acute illness.  That’s a huge hit because Medicare payments are responsible for more than 20 percent of nursing home revenues.

Other factors have also contributed to the nursing home squeeze, including the recession and the real-estate crash.

Says one nursing home executive, “Every adult is going to face this nursing home crisis in some way, whether it’s through their own care or the care of loved ones. Ignoring it is not going to make it better.”

In other health news:

Heavy doctors avoid weight loss discussions with their heavy patients. Instead of trying the “do as I say, not as I do” tactic, doctors who need to lose weight themselves frequently avoid talking about weight loss altogether with their obese patients, a new report in the medical journal Obesity found. This shouldn’t be a surprise — other research has shown that physicians who smoke are less likely to help patients quit.

Skip the steak before surgery. You know about fasting overnight before surgery, but now mouse studies suggest that cutting out protein entirely for a few days before a procedure can help the body cope with the stress of surgery better and have fewer complications. The study, by researchers with Harvard School of Public health, found that mice that didn’t eat protein before surgery had higher survival rates. About 40 percent of the mice who ate a normal diet died after surgery, all of the mice on a protein-free diet survived.

New lung cancer test may improve odds for early-stage patients. A new molecular test predicts whether an early stage lung tumor will kill a patient within five years. The test could potentially save lives by helping patients with small, but aggressive tumors decide whether to undergo additional treatment, such as chemo or radiation.

Photo: nbalawfirm.com