Experts cite caretaker shortages in surge of Wisconsin nursing home closures

Nearly two dozen nursing homes have closed since 2020, according to LeadingAge Wisconsin.
Published: Mar. 8, 2023 at 6:52 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Nearly two dozen nursing homes have closed since 2020, according to LeadingAge Wisconsin. Experts say these closures are disproportionately impacting rural communities, and leaving a hole in the health care system.

Oakwood Village in Madison celebrated an open house on Wednesday at its new modern facility featuring 60 beds, 450-square-foot suites and a café.

“A very exciting day for Oakwood,” Keith VanLanduyt, the executive director of the Oakwood Foundation, said. “We’re hoping that this new building will attract come caregivers.”

During the height of the pandemic, caregiver burnout and shortages were rampant. Fast forward to 2023, there still aren’t enough workers. When VanLanduyt was asked why he thought there’s still such a deficit, he shook his head side to side.

“I don’t know,” VanLanduyt said. “I don’t know. I mean that’s the common question everyone is asking is where has everybody gone and I don’t know.”

Experts say these shortages are one of the main reasons why nursing homes are closing.

“The capacity of our nursing homes is really dependent on our workforce,” John Sauer, president of LeadingAge Wisconsin said.

The average Wisconsin nursing home is at 70% capacity, according to Sauer. That lower capacity is not because older adults don’t need the services, Sauer explained, but because there’s simply not enough caretakers.

“No one wants a a facility to accept people if they don’t have adequate staff,” Sauer said.

It’s part of why surviving nursing homes are getting smaller.

“There’s actually an incentive for facilities to downsize,” Sauer said.

Nursing homes pay $170 a month in state taxes for every bed that they have, whether they’re occupied or empty, according to Sauer. Empty beds are expensive. At Oakwood, the new building’s 60 beds is a downsize from its previous location with 70 beds.

“There’s not enough caregivers right now,” VanLanduyt said. “That’s a major challenge for Oakwood and all providers like Oakwood.”

Sauer said a survey of all of its nursing home members throughout Wisconsin indicated that staffing was the main thing that keep people up at night.

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