National Senior Citizen’s Day recognizes senior citizens’ contributions to our society. As health begins to decline in later years, good health and maintaining a sense of independence take on new priorities for seniors. Adding to their worries, the annual financial cost of healthcare continues to rise. Although seniors may have planned well for their retirement years, oftentimes, the financial picture unexpectedly changes after retirement because of health concerns.
Healthcare boards are challenged by many governance issues, and the health of seniors is one of them. Older adults have suffered the most from COVID-19. Healthcare costs are continually rising, and healthcare boards must manage their hospital budget despite their weighty challenges.
Aging Seniors Face Unique Healthcare Challenges
Among the challenges healthcare boards face is an aging population that is growing. The baby boomer generation is the second-largest generation. Large numbers of baby boomers have already retired, and the last of them will retire over the next 10-15 years. Many seniors are also delaying retirement to work longer, which may lead to delaying necessary healthcare. Moreover, the rising cost of healthcare products and services for seniors means healthcare boards must give some attention to ensuring older adults get the health care they need.
To compound things, older adults have suffered more from COVID-19 than any other demographic. What’s more, the future of how illnesses such as COVID-19 and the new emergence of diseases such as Monkeypox and polio are hard to predict.
These are some of the health issues our seniors face:
- Brain health issues such as dementia and Alzheimer’s
- Mobility and falling risks
- Mental health issues such as depression
- Joint and bone health
- Cardiovascular disease
- Respiratory disease
- Dietary needs
These issues affect the quality of life for seniors as they limit their ability to socialize and be physically active.
Unfortunately, some of these issues commonly fall through the cracks in healthcare for seniors. Many lived with debilitating conditions for many years due to the lack of access to healthcare.
Proper preventive care can help older adults feel better and enjoy a better quality of life. The challenge for healthcare boards is how to make it happen.
6 Governance Challenges for Healthcare Boards
The following six governance challenges should be on every healthcare board’s agenda.
- Financial Challenges
Some hospitals have seen a decline in patient volumes due to high deductibles. Boards have also had to shift much of their funds to technology to meet healthcare goals and needs. Other issues are the high cost of care and carrying high levels of bad debts.
Boards must look at data to understand whether they are losing patients to other competitors or if the market is just shrinking. Community hospitals may need to consider mergers with larger hospitals to get the necessary capital for necessary digital advancements. For example, modern accounting systems will allow hospitals to provide boards with greater data.
- Medicare and Medicaid Reimbursement
Most seniors have Medicare, Medicaid, or both. The federal government often underpays for many services seniors receive, often less than what it costs hospitals to provide care. Moreover, these government programs are notably slow payers, impacting healthcare providers’ cash flow. One survey shows that 71% of hospital executives said Medicaid reimbursement was one of their top challenges. About 54% said they experience the same thing with Medicare.
CMS is now accepting requests for accelerated and advanced payments to allow healthcare providers to deal with the COVID crisis. However, this program is temporary. Healthcare boards may need to advocate more strongly for better and more timely reimbursement of federal programs.
- Nursing Shortage
A nursing shortage existed before COVID, and it is only getting worse. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are about 194,500 openings for registered nurses annually. This field is expected to grow 9% per year, at least until 2030. The American Nurses Association says that over 500,000 experienced registered nurses will retire by the end of 2022 and there is a need for an additional one point million new registered nurses.
To combat the nursing shortage, hospital boards will need to promote nursing career development and allow for scheduling flexibility. In addition, they need to listen to the voices of their nurses and recognize or reward them for their diligence.
- Expanding Telehealth Care
COVID forced doctors and hospitals to rely more heavily on telehealth and virtual appointments. while telehealth offers many advantages, it also poses risks such as cybersecurity and patient privacy issues.
Many health care leaders are interested in permanently expanding telehealth services even when COVID and other emergency illnesses are under control. They also need to ensure that seniors can access the necessary technology to attend virtual appointments.
- Cybersecurity Threats
Cyber security has been a major challenge for healthcare organizations. Hackers are more strategic and sophisticated than ever. Hospitals and other healthcare providers are especially vulnerable to cyber threats such as ransomware, data breaches, insider threats, phishing, and fraudulent scams. HHS reports they were notified of 132 data breaches in hospitals and healthcare providers, a 50% increase from the prior year. They believe hackers were focusing on the vulnerabilities caused by COVID. The lack of security could impact the financial status of seniors.
Healthcare providers will need to work closely with IT and invest more heavily in cybersecurity protections to protect patient confidentiality. A key may be to foster trusting relationships with executive teams so they have a greater comfort level with sharing information about risks and challenges.
- COVID and other Emerging Illnesses
Without question, healthcare providers endured extreme challenges when COVID was at its worst. New strains of the virus, as well as emerging diseases such as Monkeypox and re-emerging diseases such as polio, continue to infect mass numbers of people. Seniors can be especially hard hit.
The pandemic highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of healthcare providers. Boards will need to continue their discussions around crisis management as it pertains to infectious diseases.
In wrapping things up, the Kaiser Family Foundation says older adults had more cases of COVID than other age groups. Seniors also account for more hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID. National Senior Citizen’s Day is a time to recognize how valuable older adults are and how important it is to ensure they have access to quality healthcare.
The evolving healthcare climate will surely be a primary topic on every healthcare board’s agenda, and a board management solution is the tool of choice for productive board meetings.