Montana seniors deserve a lot more than what we’re spending on them

March 11, 2023 4:39 am

Photo illustration by Getty Images.

The number of adults older than the age of 65 year is growing in Montana.

As of 2017, 18% of Montanans were 65 or older, up from 14% in 2001. It is expected to climb to 22% by 2030.

With our aging population, caring for Montana seniors needs to be a priority for funding.  Aging in place is a challenge.  In Montana, there is currently not a viable continuum of care for seniors to age with dignity. Now is the time to strengthen the infrastructure that will support our aging population now and in the future.   

Big Sky Senior Services, a nonprofit organization based in Billings, has and will continue to take a leading role in supporting independence and sustaining or increasing quality of life for senior citizens and preventing elder abuse.  We are a guiding force in the important notion that aging at home is best for our seniors and clients. There comes a time, however, that caring for a loved one at home becomes unsustainable.  Administering medications, mobility and personal care issues are a challenge for the most dedicated caregiver. Increasing paid homecare can be considered but the cost is prohibitive.  The reality for many Montana families is an eventual search for a bed in a nursing home or skilled care facility.

This past year, 11 nursing homes closed, losing the state 850 beds at a time when many of our Montana seniors have outlived their retirement funds and are eligible for Medicaid beds in nursing homes. Unfortunately, Medicaid nursing home beds are few and far between, particularly in rural parts of our state.  

The primary cause of the closure of so many nursing homes is the low Medicaid reimbursement rate of $212 per day. That rate is inadequate to pay the staff qualified and needed to provide care for our loved ones 24 hours a day. Currently our legislative leaders have looked at a benchmark of $278 per day based on a study run three years ago. The governor’s budget suggested $249 per day.  The reality is that actual costs are estimated to be $350 per day.   

The fact remains, our state is not reimbursing nursing homes at an adequate rate to keep facilities open, with qualified and caring staff. In the big picture, our seniors deserve our best care. 

Tyler Amundson is the executive director of Big Sky Senior Services and has written this on behalf of the organization’s board of directors.

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