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'Lives Are At Stake': Advocacy Group Says Okla. Long-Term Care Must Change

Data from Oklahoma State Department of Health
To date, 95% of deaths from COVID-19 have been in people over the age of 50.

An advocacy group for seniors reacts to the Oklahoma long-term care industry’s pushback on President Biden’s vaccine mandate for nursing homes.

Sean Voskuhl is state director of Oklahoma’s AARP group.

“In Oklahoma, poor infection control, staffing shortages, and quality of care problems have existed for years. Oklahoma has really been at the bottom of those rankings. If we don’t mandate change now, lives are at stake.”

Care Providers of Oklahoma, a trade group representing the interests of long-term care facility owners, last week said the vaccine mandate would endanger seniors because so many workers would rather quit than get vaccinated.

But Voskuhl said the state has recently seen COVID infections in nursing homes that are twice the national average, and the state has gotten plenty of money and breaks to fix things.

“We had to rely on the National Guard coming in and helping do infection control in long-term care facilities. We are paying long-term care facilities money to do that. To lessen rules and regulations I think is really disheartening. That needs to stop. We have got to hold nursing homes accountable for poor infection control. The money is coming in, so why aren’t things getting better?”

Nationally, $21 billion in CARES funds was allocated to nursing homes to deal with COVID but where the money went is not a matter of public record. Critics of the industry have long called for more transparency in how funds are allocated.

The average salary for a nursing home administrator is about $128,000, but Voskuhl said there are sometimes revenue streams that are hard to spot.

“Sometimes you have to examine the contracting. Who are the contractors? Is it just another dummy corporation or LLC with the ownership getting those additional revenues? I think they’re definitely doing well. Obviously the money’s not trickling down to staff. Someone’s making money.”

Nursing home workers are notoriously underpaid. Raises for them have been put forth as one way to improve care. Voskuhl agrees.

“This is a great opportunity for facilities that are complaining that they can’t pay their staff to step up to the plate. Better pay, better working conditions and benefits would go a long way in shoring up a workforce, especially in our long-term care settings.”

$35 million a year was also allocated to the long-term care industry by SB 280, passed in 2019 before the pandemic. Those funds were granted with the caveat that facilities use less anti-psychotic drugs to control residents.