LTC’s latest big worry: Who’s getting and who’s giving?

Of all the issues spooking long-term care providers lately, one might seem to be a bouquet of sunshine. The latest major salary survey results for nursing homes came out Thursday and they showed that nurse salaries are swelling like Jabba the Hutt’s waistline.

Overall, nurse pay jumped about 10% over the past year, nearly tripling the substantial increases of a year earlier for RNs and doubling those for LPNs. Staffing shortages and pandemic conditions, of course, are the main reasons.

We can all agree: Long-term care nurses work hard and deserve great raises, especially when their workplace can be so stressful, and even downright hazardous. So hug a nurse today.

The embracing, however, might not come so quickly by those who have to supply the capital for these pay hikes.

By most accounts, nurses have been overdue for raises. But the big worry now is: When will the upward pay pressure stop, or at least slow?

If things keep trending this way, nurses are going to right up there with plumbers. (If you haven’t had any problems with a sink, toilet or drain lately, you can’t fully relate.)

The point is, while better compensating your core caregiving workforce is laudable, most skilled nursing operators I know don’t have Finnegan’s bottomless pot of gold. In addition, inflation also has them contending with rising costs for everything from food to care products and ancillary services.

Pandemic relief funding will soon be a thing of the past, or at least a shadow of its former self. In addition, we’ll soon be hearing just how severe the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ fiscal 2023 pay cut will be. To be clear: That will be not just a small Medicare pay raise. No, overall, payments will go backward thanks to an effort to reclaim PDPM overpayments.

In some encouraging news from the 2022-2023 HCS Nursing Home Salary & Benefits Report, the rise of nurse turnover rates has slowed over the past year. That may be a sign that the worst carnage of the pandemic has passed or that higher salaries may be starting to buy some loyalty. Or both.

Or neither.

Turnover is still unbearably high  — 41%, 46% and 55% for LPNs, RNs and certified nurse aides, respectively. Until those numbers come down, and not just slow their rise, salaries are liable to keep escalating.

As consumers around the world have found out lately, rising prices make you smile only if you’re the one selling something.

James M. Berklan is McKnight’s Executive Editor.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.