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Panel OKs higher pay for home care, nursing home workers

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ST. PAUL — Kurt Rutzen trusted his personal care attendant, who helped him with such varied tasks as bathing and filling out complex government forms.

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The Minneapolis man told a Senate committee Thursday that the attendant left the company that provides services to the disabled and elderly, probably for more money. “I was heartbroken.”

With large turnover in the home health care industry, Rutzen added, it now is tough to establish such trust with personal care attendants and other caregivers.

“They want to stay,” Rutzen said. “It comes down to ... unfortunately, the pay.”

A Senate health and human services committee approved a bill to boost home caregivers’ funding 5 percent and nursing home workers’ pay to a lesser extent. The plan is expected to be folded into an overall bill adjusting the state budget that lawmakers passed last year.

“We need to provide quality care for these people with disabilities and seniors in their homes,” Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, said as he explained his bill.

The added money in his bill “will allow them to live more independently and be more of a part of their communities,” Eken said.

Home care providers only have received a 3.4 percent funding boost since 2003, Eken said.

The bill originally only applied to home care workers such as personal care attendants, nurses, life-skill trainers and others involved in home care.

Eken said low pay for such workers in his northwestern Minnesota district is especially troubling. A care giver in his area gets training in Minnesota, he said, but then can move to North Dakota and earn $2 an hour more.

The objective of the original bill was to be able to retain home care workers, who can provide services less expensively than nursing homes, thus keeping people in their homes longer.

An amendment by Sen. Jeff Hayden, D-Minneapolis, was put onto the bill to provide more money for nursing home workers.

The amendment would provide raises to nursing home workers earning less than $14 an hour, a reaction to Democrats’ plan to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour. Raising the wage could make it impossible for nursing homes to afford to stay open, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, has said.

“It is important to recognize the effect that the minimum wage increase would have on our long-term care facilities,” Eken said in supporting Hayden’s amendment.

“This clearly is the missing piece to this long-term care issue we are facing,” Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said.

Legislators last year gave home care workers a slight funding increase, with more money going to nursing homes.

Rural nursing homes generally pay less than those in larger cities, and rural lawmakers say those facilities face the biggest danger of closing.

A similar bill has passed its first House committee.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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