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Nursing homes continue to close in Montana

Optimism surrounds legislative session that changes can be made
Friendship Villa
Posted at 1:24 PM, Feb 09, 2023

MILES CITY - Miles City nursing home Friendship Villa announced it would be shutting down operations for good in December, making it the 12th senior care facility to close in Montana in 2022.

That is now 20 percent of all senior care facilities in Montana officially closed last year. Friendship Villa, the most recent, stranded 36 residents and many loyal employees.

“There were a couple that were really, really upset because all they’ve ever known is Friendship Villa,” former employee Kyle Wolff said. “I worked there for 34 years. I’m surprised that this one closed because this was our best facility in the northern region."

Wolff said they did find new homes for all of the residents, but that for him the closure represents the end of an era.

“We had a great staff, the residents were like number one man," Wolff said. "They were excellent, excellent people."

Every month it seems like a new nursing home is being forced to shut down operations, and it's because of two major reasons.

The first is that Medicaid reimbursement rates set by the state legislature which are nowhere high enough to keep many facilities afloat.

And the second is that nursing home staff has been extremely difficult to find statewide.

St. John's CEO David Trost said that the staffing shortage has become an apparent problem for the industry in the last few years.

“I’ve never met a caregiver that doesn’t love their job," Trost said. "The challenge today is there’s not enough of them. We are actively reducing our nursing home capacity because of staffing issues.”

But there are positive signs — changes could be coming.

“In my 28 years of managing St. John's in Montana, I’ve not seen a legislative session that had so much focus on trying to make the reimbursement as right as possible," Trost said.

Gov. Greg Gianforte's proposed budget includes $21 million to supplement Medicaid payments for nursing home stays. Trost also said that a proposed bill before the Montana Legislature would increase reimbursement rates to help keep these services alive.

"It's a heavy ask because those increases are pretty substantial," Trost said. "At the same time, we’ve got all these other needs that are increasing. So I don’t know how this legislature is going to manage that.”

Back at Friendship Villa in Miles City, Wolff is hopeful that other nursing homes in rural communities won't have to suffer the same fate.

“For us, it’s too late, which is too bad," Wolff said. "But yeah, they really need to do something.”