KAKE NEWS INVESTIGATES: Families beg lawmakers to raise pay for in-home nurses

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A Wichita area mother took her plea for better pay for home health care nurses to the statehouse Monday. 

We first told you about her daughter, Norah Calvert, last week, and her fight just to breathe – requiring trained medical aid every day of her life.

Norah sounds like any other four-year-old, until you hear the beeping that accompanies her everywhere she goes.

It’s a reminder that her brain doesn’t tell her lungs to breathe, so machines do the breathing for her.  They require constant monitoring and adjustments to make sure she gets enough oxygen for whatever she’s doing.  For that, her parents need help.

"We have been without consistent night nurses for about six months now and needless to say it is exhausting," Corrie Calvert told lawmakers on the KanCare Legislative Oversight Committee.

Calvert, other parents, and caregivers say the problem isn’t a shortage of nurses.

"We currently have 4 twelve-hour shifts uncovered for our daughter,” said Kathy Keck, another mother asking for help.  “People say we have a nursing shortage however I think really the core of the issue is pay."

"We have nurses that drive 50-74 miles, yet the rate that we can pay then is equivalent to a babysitter," said Sean Balke, president and COO of Craig HomeCare.  He added, he’s not sure how much longer his company can afford to continue serving rural portions of Kansas.

According to Thrive Pediatrics, another home healthcare provider, they get $31.56 an hour from Medicaid for cases like Norah’s.  Out of that, they have to cover administrative costs, as well as purchase basic supplies such as sanitizers, gloves and some medical equipment.  That leaves them with just $18-$20 an hour to pay the nurse.

From healthcare providers to parents like Calvert, they begged lawmakers to raise the base pay for home health care nurses of critically ill kids like Norah, saying the shortage is actually costing the state more money than a pay raise would.

Ann Martin with Thrive Pediatrics said many children have to remain in the hospital for weeks waiting for a home nurse to become available.  She says the cost of the in-patient stay requires roughly $200,000 while waiting, compared to $61,000 under the proposed raised pay rate

"Medicaid pay goes to 47% of those dollars (for hospitals)...Home healthcare gets 2 percent,” Martin said.

This was just the first step in what will be a long fight for parents like the Calverts.  Any long-term changes can’t come until lawmakers return for the 2020 Legislative Session in January.