How My Son Opened My Eyes to Caring for Senior Citizens

Thank you to the Nurse Talk columnists who shared this space with me this month. I don’t work in healthcare. In fact, I’m probably like most people who don’t really think about our healthcare system until we need it for ourselves or a loved one.

What I am is a dad who has developed a new appreciation for healthcare issues, thanks to my son, Keith. He is 28 years old, a great guy, well-liked by everyone. Although he has a learning disability and doesn’t drive a car, he has grown up appreciating the importance of hard work and giving back to others. Keith works at Christian Health Care Center in Wyckoff, a nonprofit that provides senior living, short-term rehabilitation and mental health services. Keith works in the kitchen, where he washes dishes and delivers meals to the center’s residents. He’s proud of his job – and I’m very proud of him.

Employees like Keith, and the elderly residents he serves, feel the real-life, downstream impact of policy issues in our state. One of these issues is New Jersey’s new minimum wage law, and I never even would have thought about its ripple effects if it weren’t for my son.

It’s great that workers will see their hourly wages rise under the new law. The people of New Jersey deserve to have a livable wage. But for facilities that serve our senior citizens, the minimum wage law poses a big challenge. I’ve learned that many of New Jersey’s nursing homes have very thin financial margins, in large part because of low payments from the state’s Medicaid program. Did you know that our nursing homes, on average, lose $47 a day caring for a Medicaid beneficiary because the payment rates are so low? I was shocked to learn that.

So, if you consider those very low payments and then layer in the new law that will bump the minimum wage to $15 in the next few years, it’s clear that something has to give. I don’t want Keith, or workers in nursing homes elsewhere in New Jersey, to lose their jobs because Medicaid doesn’t pay enough to cover those higher wages. My son would be devastated if he lost the job that he loves, and the additional victims would be nursing home residents if facilities are forced to trim their staffs.

I’ve never gotten involved in these types of debates before, but I felt compelled to because there’s a smart solution in Trenton that would help alleviate some of this problem. Gov. Murphy’s proposed budget calls for added funding for nursing homes that will help address the longstanding Medicaid payment shortfall. I applaud the Governor for recognizing that need. Now we must address the wage issue, which is why there are calls for an additional $15 million in state funding that would generate $15 million in matching funds from the federal government to address the new minimum wage requirements. That added support will help preserve jobs and high-quality care for our seniors – and I can tell you from my visits to Keith’s workplace, these are wonderful folks who deserve this commitment to their care. 

I’m not a policy expert. I’m just a dad who worries about kids like my son and for our senior citizens, two of our most vulnerable populations. May is Older Americans Month, and this budget investment in their well-being is one that our state must make. It’s just that simple.

Doug Groenewal and his family live in North Haledon.

Icn Link About the Authors

Doug Groenewal Guest columnist Doug Groenewal and his family live in North Haledon.

Icn Link Nurse Talk Menu

See our full list of Nurse Talk articles.
View Articles >>

Return to the Nurse Talk Homepage.
Click here >>