nursing home seniors elderly (copy) (copy)

A worker cleans tables in the dining area at a nursing home in Battle Creek, Neb. 

Elderly residents are projected to make up a steeply increasing portion of the population in Nebraska’s rural counties in coming decades. That means a steadily growing demand for nursing home services, even as such facilities face major financial challenges. Nebraska policy-makers will need to pay close attention to this issue as they set the budget for Medicaid payments that help keep nursing homes in operation.

Projections from the University of Nebraska at Omaha indicate this important demographic trend for the state’s rural counties: In 2010, residents age 65 and older made up 19% of the population in those counties. The figure is projected to climb to 23.7% by 2020, 31.3% by 2030 and 33.7% by 2050.

The figures for Nebraska’s urban counties are projected to be much smaller: 14.8% in 2020, 18.2% in 2030, 18.7% in 2050.

Meanwhile, a total of 34 nursing homes have closed in Nebraska over the past eight years, The World-Herald’s Martha Stoddard reports. All but two were in rural areas. Fourteen have closed this year, a record. Only one of the 14 facilities was in an urban area.

“Where in the rural areas of the state are people going to have to go to get care?” asks Heath Boddy, president and CEO of the Nebraska Health Care Association, which represents the majority of Nebraska nursing homes.

Nebraska state lawmakers are aware of the issue and have increased nursing home payment rates in the current budget. That move is a help, but the challenge clearly remains.

There is no magic solution, given the multiple demands on the state budget. But in the face of these sobering demographic trends, Nebraska lawmakers, now and in the future, must make sure to place nursing home funding among their priorities in deciding the state budget.

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