Bill advances to cap temp nurses’ rates in Iowa nursing homes

DES MOINES — Agencies that provide temporary staff for Iowa long-term care facilities are calling on lawmakers to table a plan to limit how much they charge.

A bill that’s cleared the Iowa House would cap charges for so-called traveling nurses at 150% of the statewide average wage for nurses who working in nursing homes. Bob Livonius is on the board of directors for Grapetree Medical Staffing agency in Milford and a spokesman for a coalition for 18 similar businesses. Livonius said temp agencies will stop doing business with Iowa nursing homes if there’s a cap on what they can charge, just like what’s happened in the only two states that currently cap pay for traveling nurses working in nursing homes.

“They’ll simply abandon the work that’s being done here in Iowa…they’re just not going to make any money on it,” he said. “That’s what’s happened in Minnesota. That’s what’s happened in Massachusetts.”

Others warn the move would lead to staffing shortages in nursing homes. Greg Opseth is chief operating officer for Hiland Medical Staffing in Gowrie. “We are an integral part to the matrix that sustains health care deliver in rural Iowa,” Opseth said. “We have and provide crucial support in times of staffing shortages and fluctuations in patient volume.”

According to a lobbyist for the Iowa Nurses Association, nurses feel singled out, since there are other traveling medical professionals, like doctors, who aren’t included in the proposed pay limitation.

Brent Willett, president and CEO of the Iowa Health Care Association, said if the cap were implemented on traveling nurses, Iowa long-term care facilities would be able to redirect an estimated $22 million on full-time staff.

“Our health care system desperately needs more direct care workers and we need to pay them more,” Willett said.

The proposed cap is advancing in a bill that cleared a senate subcommittee Monday. Senator Jason Schulte, a Republican from Schleswig, said some temp agencies appear to be “pocketing” a lot of money and, “while that’s capitalism,” a lot of tax dollars are being spent on nursing home care through the Medicaid program and he’s not ruling out some sort of limits on what temp agencies can charge.

“The stress in the long term care industry is very real,” Schultz said. “I think everyone understands that.”

A senate committee will review the proposal later this week.