District 22 candidates discuss senior health care (with video)FULDA — The six candidates running for Minnesota District 22 legislature positions participated in an election forum centering on senior health issues Thursday afternoon at the Maple Lawn Senior Care Campus.
FULDA — The six candidates running for Minnesota District 22 legislature positions participated in an election forum centering on senior health issues Thursday afternoon at the Maple Lawn Senior Care Campus.
Two main topics addressed included nursing home and assisted living regulations, and funding disparities between rural areas and urban areas.
All candidates agreed too many regulations create an overload of paperwork and takes time away from caring for residents.
They also agreed major changes are needed to close the gap between pay differences from rural southwest Minnesota, to areas such as Sioux Falls, S.D. and the Twin Cities.
Arlan Swanson, campus administrator and CEO, moderated the forum and began by saying there are more than 112,000 senior care jobs in the state. A survey found 64 percent of Minnesotans would support a tax increase for senior care improvements, he said.
Increased taxes for senior care
All candidates agreed they would support tax increases for senior care improvements.
“It’s been too low for too long,” said Alan Oberloh, who is running for District 22 Senate. “(Health care employees) do a service that most people don’t realize.”
Bill Weber, who is running for District 22 Senate, said it’s an economic issue, and that healthcare workers have a vital impact on the community.
“One of the telltale signs of society is how they take care of their seniors,” Weber said.
Gene Short, who is running for District 22A State House of Representatives, said there’s a lot of work to do to see pay raises and equalization for health care employees.
Cheryl Avenel-Navara, who is running for District 22B State House of Representatives, said there have been too many budget cuts to nursing homes.
Incentives for long-term care insurance
Swanson asked if the candidates would support tax credits for long-term care insurance, and how they would get information to consumers.
Rep. Joe Schomacker(22A) said senior health care costs will soon fall on his generation. He supports tax credits, but said they only go so far.
Short said there should be incentives for people over age 65 to cover long-term care insurance.
Rep. Rod Hamilton (22B) said providing insurance incentives are a great idea. Consumers should be empowered to make individual choices, based on the type of care needed, he said.
Avenel-Navara said it’s an issue of personal responsibility and planning for the future. She supports incentives, adding rates are cheaper when purchased at a younger age.
Weber said there’s room to do more with incentives, and the state has financial reasons to offer them.
“We need to find a way to add incentives,” Oberloh said. “I would also support a tax credit and incentives for people who write the policies.”
“We have to open up and think outside the box,” Oberloh continued. “We’re in trouble in the state, and needs aren’t being met.”
Alternative senior health care
Candidates were asked what they would do to ensure that seniors have access to nursing home alternatives, such as assisted living.
“Nobody chooses to go to a nursing home,” Avenel-Navara said. “They go because they have to.”
She said people want different choices, and that seniors need stimulation and activity.
Hamilton said it’s about “treating individuals as individuals.” He said regulations need cut across the board, and put into the hands of the health care professionals.
Oberloh said there should be ways to keep people in their homes as long as possible.
“It’s important to look at all the different options out there,” Weber agreed. “We can’t turn our back on new ideas that have a shot of working.”
Short said he supports programs to keep seniors independent.
Schomacker said he would work to provide licenses for new programs such as community paramedics to expand.
Nursing home closures
Swanson said it costs more to run a nursing home than what the homes are taking in, forcing some to close.
All candidates agreed this is an important issue that needs addressed immediately.
“We’re in serious trouble and we better fix it right now,” Oberloh said.
Schomacker supports rate equalization for rural areas and urban areas.
“I don’t want to see any more nursing homes close,” Short said. “It’s a sad topic.”
Avenel-Navara said rate equalization is an issue that needs looked at. She suggested alternative sources of funding, such as using life insurance policies to help with nursing home costs.
All candidates agreed health care providers are bogged down with too much paperwork.
To solve this, the candidates agreed the senior care professionals would provide the best input on how to go about regulation changes.
They agreed regulation changes should be streamlined to allow for senior care providers to spend more time with the patients, rather than on paperwork.
An audience member who worked in the health care industry agreed changes are needed, and said less regulations would benefit every resident.
“I think there was a point where regulations did need to come in,” Swanson said. “But now there’s too many. There are a lot of federally driven regulations, so it’s hard to decrease at the state level.”
An audience member said senior care directors would like to pay their staff more, but the disparity rate difference among rural and urban areas prevents this.
The audience clapped in agreement after Oberloh said, “It’s a crock that it cost more to live in the metro area. Let’s go with one rate, and get rid of separate rates.”
Avenel-Navara agreed and said employees should be paid based on a living wage, which factors in cost of living rates.
“Disparity has to be addressed,” Avenel-Navara said. “It costs the same to live here as it does to live in urban areas. People have to be paid appropriately; you can’t pay someone $8 an hour and expect them to live well.”
Swanson mentioned studies should be done to update the current disparity differences between the smaller and larger cities.
Daily Globe Reporter Kayla Strayer may be reached at 376-7322.