Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration took a key step Monday to stave off a nursing home strike, endorsing three rates hikes for the industry to be phased in between this July and January 2021.
Nursing homes that serve Medicaid patients would receive a 2 percent rate increase in July 2019, a 1 percent hike in October 2020 and a final 1 percent bump in January 2021.
“I will work with legislative leaders in the Connecticut General Assembly over the coming days to address the funding for these rate increases in the state budget for the upcoming biennium,” Office of Policy and Management Secretary Melissa McCaw, Lamont’s budget director, wrote in a letter sent to the state’s two major nursing home coalitions.
The Lamont administration is negotiating a new state budget with legislative leaders to cover the next two fiscal years. The goal is to resolve that plan before the regular 2019 legislative session ends on June 5.
According to the governor’s budget office, the rate hikes would cost the state $11 million next fiscal year, $18.5 million in 2020-21, and $24 million in 2021-22.
But McCaw noted in her letter that if the increases are built into the new, two-year budget, it still would be incumbent on nursing home owners and unionized workers to negotiate how much of this extra funding might go toward higher wages and improved benefits.
The state’s largest health-care workers’ union, New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199 SEIU, says about 4,000 of its members spread across 43 nursing homes have been working for nearly two years under expired contracts.
And about 3,100 members at 25 of those homes are threatening to strike as soon as June 3 if a deal is not reached.
Pedro Zayas, a spokesman for 1199, said workers were relieved to learn Monday of the increases, but the union won’t call off the strike deadline until contracts are settled.
“We’re very happy that the governor and hopefully the legislature understand the problem of paying fair wages in nursing homes,” he said, “but now we need to get it in writing from the nursing home owners.”
While nursing homes received a 2 percent increase in Medicaid funding this past November and a 3 percent increase in 2016, the industry has gone several years over the past decade with no inflationary adjustment.
Lamont originally recommended no additional funds for nursing homes for either of the next two fiscal years in the budget he proposed to legislators back in February.
Federal and state Medicaid funds cover the cost of roughly 70 percent of nursing home care in the state.
“Nursing home residents, employees and operators can rest a little easier tonight knowing that Governor Lamont and Secretary McCaw have made increased Medicaid funding for Connecticut nursing homes a priority at this critical time,” said Matthew Barrett, president and CEO of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities, which represents 160 nursing homes.