“We’re struggling” – Medicaid reimbursements, COVID-19 causing struggle for families that rely on private duty nurses
CAMDEN, Del. – For some who rely on in-home nursing care in Delaware, they say things are getting difficult. The pandemic has put on a strain on nurses’ availability. But on top of that, 47ABC is told Medicaid reimbursements for nurses haven’t been raised in more than a decade, making the problem even worse. “Most of our nurses have either left or stopped working in that area because of their own health factors. Or they had to go to different jobs for employment,” said local mother Kateri Morton.
Morton says private duty nurses have been a lifesaver for her eight-year-old son, Joey Scruggs. But when you ask Morton why she loves Joey’s nurses, she says it’s because they’re more than just that. They’re like family. “She was there through years of everything, and she did so much of this on her extra time. These nurses – they are more than nurses,” said Morton.
Joey has Down Syndrome and suffers from a compromised immune system. Morton says that’s why he needs around the clock care. “We rely on our nurses. I need nursing to even sleep at night because of his sleep issues. I need nursing to go to work. I need private duty nursing to be my second mom,” said Morton.
But finding those nurses hasn’t been easy. Diane Schepens is just one of the nurses who has helped Joey through some of his toughest and scariest times. “Sometimes what you see is not really the real picture. We see JoJo running around and playing. People say ‘What in the world does he need a nurse for?’ That was not the same little boy three or four years ago,” said Schepens.
Schepens and Morton say due to COVID-19 and the fact that Delaware has not increased their Medicaid reimbursements for 16 years, finding nurses to help care for Joey has become an uphill battle. “We’re struggling. We can’t retain our nurses, and with COVID going on, more and more families are being touched by home care nursing,” said Schepens.
The shortage of nurses has meant Morton has had to fill in the lapses when she can’t find care – something that she says has caused her to lose her job. “At one point in six months I had 26 absences due to nurse staffing issues, and that was prior to COVID,” said Morton.
Now Morton and other mothers in similar situations are begging the state of Delaware to make a change and increase reimbursements. That way, children just like Joey can get the care they not only need, but deserve. “They’re the ones that are there when he crashes. They have been and they have to manage the whole medical scenario on their own while also being the emotional support for the child through that time,” said Morton.
Morton says she’s part with a group of Delaware moms who are advocating for more support for private duty nurses. Morton adds that they’re hoping to expand their effort to the national scale, and will continue advocating to their local leaders.