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More help could be on the way for nursing home residents and staff members in Illinois thanks to a new bill signed by Gov. JB Pritzker.

The governor signed House Bill 246, better known as the Nursing Home Rate Reform Bill, into law Tuesday afternoon in Chicago. The bill plans to bring more than $700 million dollars each year to Medicaid-funded nursing homes across the state to help increase staffing levels and improve the quality of care.

The bill will reward Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) with at least one year of experience with a $1.50 raise, with Medicaid paying their share of the increase. The first-year increase will be followed by a $1 raise each year for six years for a maximum pay increase of $6.50 per hour.

Pritzker believes the new incentives will lead to more people working in nursing homes, which could in turn lead to better care for seniors over time.

“Today we take a giant leap forward in delivering the care, dignity, and respect that our valued seniors deserve,” Pritzker said at a news conference Tuesday. “We are investing more than $700 million in Medicaid funding toward an equity-driven staffing model, a standard that rewards higher-quality care.”

Hundreds of nursing homes across Illinois have been waiting for answers to staffing shortages for years now, as many have been severely understaffed since the start of the pandemic. One example is St. Anthony’s Continuing Care, a nursing home in Rock Island, whose owner says he’s struggled to find caregivers to fill many positions.

“It is very hard to find CNAs, RNs (registered nurses), LPNs (licensed practical nurses), and we have to hire more staff,” said Raj Shah, the owner of St. Anthony’s Continuing Care. “The objective for us is patient care. Nothing else matters to me.”

Shah says he has owned St. Anthony’s since April, and it hasn’t been very profitable yet. He says nearly all of the nursing home’s profits have to go toward paying their employees, and that the previous owners lost millions during the pandemic.

“Because of the circumstances, they were losing more than a million dollars a year for two-and-a-half years,” Shah said.

Now, with House Bill 246 paying his employees more each year with no cost to him, Shah hopes the care his residents receive will improve tenfold.

“Right now with the Medicare and Medicaid rates of reimbursement, we could definitely use some help,” Shah said. “So, I’m super excited about the bill.”