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June 05, 2024

In Veterans Hearing, King Stresses Impacts of “Very Serious” Nursing Workforce Shortage

Senator cites data that projects a shortfall of over 78,000 full time nurses nationwide in 2025

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a joint hearing of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC) and Senate Special Committee on Aging, U.S. Senator Angus King pressed Fred Sganga, the Legislative Director of the National Association of State Veterans Home, about the potential harmful impacts that proposed staffing mandates could have on nursing homes, especially those homes caring for veterans. The hearing comes just days after Senator King was joined by Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND) in requesting the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) carefully study the possible repercussions of the recently finalized Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) rule on staffing levels. This rule will require minimum staffing levels at long term care (LTC) facilities that receive funding from CMS, including facilities that serve veterans.

A November 2022 report published by the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis projects that by 2025 there will be a shortage of over 78,000 full time registered nurses (RNs).

In the hearing, Senator King laid out the stakes of the issue, in Maine and nationwide:

“The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) indicates by next year we will have a 78,000 nurse shortage in this country and, yet, CMS is issuing rules for increasing staffing when there is nobody to hire. I know in Maine we’ve lost four, we’re losing four nursing homes so far this year — one this week. We’ve lost 26 in the last 10 years because, mostly, lack of staff,” began Senator King. “So, these well-meaning regulations — nobody is against adequate staffing levels — but the well-meaning regulations will end up with less care if we lose nursing home beds. Mr. Sganga, do you agree?”

“Well said, Senator King. I think it is a big problem and something we should be looking at nationwide. We think for skilled nursing facilities alone, we’re going to be lacking about 102,000 registered nurses and certified nursing assistants just to meet that,” Sganga replied.

“And just because CMS passes a regulation does not mean those nurses are going to magically spring into existence,” said Senator King.

“That is correct, that is correct” responded Sganga.

“Let the record show that you said ‘Well stated, Mr. King.’ I want that emphasized. This is a very serious problem. We are losing caregivers. What compounds it is the caregivers who are staying are being burnt out because they are having to work so many hours.  So, CMS really ought to be talking about how do we surge people into the industry, not requiring staffing levels that will end up with not lesser care, but no care for veterans and elderly people throughout the country,” concluded Senator King.

Senator King has previously raised concerns about the broad impact of this rule on the ability of LTC facilities to continue providing necessary care to aging veterans. In an October 2023 letter to the CMS Administrator, he noted that the proposed staffing mandate may inadvertently cause the widespread shutdown of rural nursing facilities, both in Maine and across the country. Senator King has repeatedly pressed the VA on the need to hire and retain more staff in order to meet the demand for veteran care.

Representing one of the states with the highest rates of veterans per capita, Senator King is a staunch advocate for America’s servicemembers and veterans. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, he previously pressed Pentagon officials on the need to prioritize the transition from active duty to veteran status. In a February Veteran’s Affairs Committee hearing, he urged the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) to accelerate their approval process for transportation reimbursements for veterans who receive care at vet centers.

Senator King has worked to ensure American veterans receive their earned benefits and that the VA is properly implementing various programs such as the PACT Actthe State Veterans Homes Domiciliary Care Flexibility Act, and the John Scott Hannon Act. Additionally, Senator King has introduced the bipartisan TAP Promotion Act and bipartisan legislation to improve transportation to health care appointments for rural veterans.


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