Over 10% of Bell County's population is over 65, and that number is expected to double in 2030 and increase by as much as 262% by 2050. As more aging baby boomers retire and seek nursing home care, it's important that we be able to keep up with this "silver tsunami".

Texas Republican State Senator Bryan Hughes recently introduced SB 1050 to help do just that.

Under SB 1050, nursing homes would receive additional funding for meeting nationally recognized performance standards and for making investments in staff wages and benefits. Funding would also be directed toward modernizing buildings to create comfortable, homelike settings, and investing in new technology - all to improve overall resident quality of life.

Hughes says the legislation would not add to the state budget.

“This legislation is consistent with our state’s strong, fiscally conservative approach to government,” said Sen. Hughes. “SB 1050 will bring federal funding to Texas—money that is effectively being sent to other states—that will be used to solve staffing and quality issues. It is time that we truly make Texas seniors a priority with this legislation."

The program is similar to programs used by 43 other states and the District of Columbia, but SB 1050 directs the additional funding received to be specifically committed to improving quality.

That's good news for the 15 long term care facilities currently operating in Bell County, which have experienced under-funding for some time.

Struggling to compete in labor markets across the state, nursing home operators say the under-funding is fueling a workforce crisis, resulting in Texas suffering some of the highest annual staff turnover rates in the country: 97 percent for certified nursing assistants, 90 percent for registered nurses and 90 percent for licensed vocational nurses.

“At $6 an hour, Texas pays nursing homes less to care for our family members and friends than a teenager makes mowing yards after school,” said Kevin Warren, president and CEO of the Texas Health Care Association, the largest organization of nursing homes in the state. “With our rate of turnover, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to consistently provide and maintain the level of care our aging Texans deserve.”

Warren pointed to recent events as evidence of the need for change. In 2018, Senior Care Centers — the state’s largest operator of nursing homes in Texas — filed for bankruptcy, while one of the largest nursing home operators in the country departed from Texas last Summer, citing the state’s low reimbursement rate as a reason for its decision.