Improving health care throughout our District, which includes 17 counties in south central Kansas, remains a top priority. Unfortunately for many of our communities, especially in rural areas, finding adequate health care facilities and staff are a constant struggle.
Throughout my two-plus years as your Representative, I’ve regularly visited with doctors, nurses, administrators and patients in local and rural hospitals throughout the Fourth District.
Just last month, I had the opportunity to visit Rock Regional Hospital in Derby to tour their new facility and learn about their operations as a new medical center serving patients closer to home. While meeting with staff at Rock Regional, I was reminded of the challenges local hospitals and other health care facilities face.
With shifting demographics throughout rural communities, it is more urgent now than ever to make sure local hospitals and health care providers have the resources they need to survive. One of the challenges is ensuring there are enough medical professionals in the area.
We need common-sense solutions to ensure quality care can be provided to our friends and neighbors down the street or in the next county over. This is especially true for our seniors in nursing homes.
That’s why I introduced bipartisan legislation with Rep. Dwight Evans of Pennsylvania last week to address the critical shortages of Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) in rural areas.
The Nursing Home Workforce Quality Act will allow nursing homes that have been forced to suspend in-house CNA education programs after receiving a certain level of penalties to resume those programs once quality standards are met. We want to make sure that any issues of quality are addressed, but we also want to make sure that CNA education can quickly resume once certain standards are met.
Under current law, nursing homes that receive a threshold number of penalties for deficiencies in quality have a two-year mandatory suspension placed on in-house CNA certification programs. The Nursing Home Workforce Quality Act allows suspensions on in-house CNA education to be rescinded once deficiencies are assessed and found to be remedied while allowing for additional oversight of facilities not exceeding the original two years.
In-house CNA education at nursing homes is often free to CNA candidates, allowing students to avoid the burden of paying for an education program at a local community college or school which may or may not exist in their geographic area. This helps meet the need for CNAs while allowing nursing homes to build their own pipelines of skilled nursing staff.
Increasing the CNA pool of candidates in rural communities is beneficial to the nursing home as well as other health care facilities in the region.
I’ve seen firsthand how care is provided to Kansans living throughout our District, and my recent visit to Rock Regional Hospital was a reminder of how dedicated Kansans are to serving one another. At the federal level, we need legislation that allows larger communities like Derby and smaller communities like Sedan, for example, to have the same access to quality-trained medical professionals to keep their health care facilities alive and thriving. Addressing the CNA shortage is one of the ways we can assist right now.
Ron Estes is a 5th generation Kansan and represents Kansas’ 4th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He serves on the House Committee on Ways and Means.