State Department of Health Services Secretary-Designee Andrea Palm, center, joins state Sen. Jeff Smith, left, Thursday on a tour of a training room at Dove Healthcare-West Eau Claire, 1405 Truax Blvd. The two discussed how Medicaid expansion would improve the quality of care-giving in Wisconsin.

Recruiting and retaining staff at Dove Healthcare-West in Eau Claire has been a challenge, says administrator Kendall Rosemeyer.

“Turnover is pretty significant in this community,” Rosemeyer said. “It’s very hard to compete (in wages) with other medical facilities or Kwik Trip. We haven’t kept up with the cost-of-living. It’s very hard on our industry.”

Rosemeyer gave a tour of her facility on Thursday to state Sen. Jeff Smith, D-Eau Claire, and Department of Health Services secretary-designee Andrea Palm.

Palm and Smith were there to discuss Gov. Tony Evers’ proposal to accept Medicaid expansion dollars and how those dollars could help facilities like Dove Healthcare by allowing the health system to increase its wages. Accepting the Medicaid coverage would expand coverage to about 75,000 more low-income state residents, and 38 states have taken the money. Evers has argued that it would save the state about $180 million annually.

“Medicaid expansion is absolutely the anchor of the DHS budget,” Palm said to area media. “(Nursing homes and medical facilities) can take that money and drive it into wages and recruitment and retention. These folks do very difficult, physical work. The wages haven’t kept up with the costs of supporting a family.”

Palm acknowledged the challenges of getting the Legislature on board with a plan to accept the federal dollars.

“I think we are anxious to have those talks with the Legislature about those investments,” Palm said. “It gets at the concerns we’re hearing around the state.”

Rosemeyer operates a 110-bed facility, but it usually has about 100 residents, and numbers are down, largely because of the lack of staffing. About 59 percent of residents use Medicaid at the facility, she added.

Smith said that 33 nursing home facilities have closed in the state in about the past year because of the financial challenges, and he said that could continue if the state doesn’t take the Medicaid expansion.

“I’m glad the governor is including that money in the budget,” Smith said.

Palm added that the Medicaid expansion dollars also could be used for behavioral health care and treatment for the rising meth and opioid crisis.

“We think (accepting the federal money) will improve health and well-being across the state,” Palm said.

State Sen. Kathy Bernier, R-Lake Hallie, remains skeptical about the plan.

“Medicaid expansion isn’t the magic bullet, and I’m tired of politicians pretending it is,” Bernier said. “The idea is that people in poverty were supposed to go on ‘Obamacare.’ Clearly, Obamacare (the 2010 Affordable Care Act) is an absolute failure, and now they are grappling to get more federal dollars when the problem is Obamacare. In the end, the state taxpayers wind up holding the bag.”