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Letter: State's payment rate to nursing homes must increase

Two weeks ago, legislative leaders in St. Paul released budget targets that should be of grave concern for Minnesota seniors and anyone who has a grandparent or parent in Long Term Care, or a family member who works in the profession. While many in St. Paul have expressed bipartisan support for ensuring seniors and their care givers are a real priority this session, their numbers don't reflect that rhetoric.

The Minnesota Legislature sets rates that Minnesota nursing homes can charge. Since 2008, the state hasn't increased its per-day payment rate to nursing homes, which effectively keeps their revenues flat. To survive, care centers have had little choice but to freeze wages. Thousands of workers who are caring for our parents and grandparents haven't received a raise in four years, which of course, increases turnover and vacant positions. A nursing assistant in a senior-care setting earns about $800 less each month than a nursing assistant in a hospital and a registered nurse earns about $2,600 less! The state's chronic underfunding of older adult services puts providers at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to attracting and retaining talent.

Bills have been introduced in both the Minnesota House and Senate that would increase the state's payment rate to nursing homes by 5 percent a year for the next two years, with 73 percent of the new revenue going directly to employee compensation. The plan also seeks a similar rate increase in the state's Elderly Waiver program, which allows people to receive state-funded care in their homes or some other setting that is less expensive than a nursing home. Our area legislators, Sen. Bill Weber, Rep. Rod Hamilton and Rep. Joe Schomacker, are co-authors of these bills. These bills are in jeopardy due to the budget targets released two weeks ago that propose to reduce Health and Human Services spending by $150 million.

I hope that legislators across the state will visit nursing homes in their districts while they are home on legislative break this week to see that there are very real effects and consequences of decisions made by the Minnesota legislature. Recently, another skilled nursing facility went out of business in northeast Minnesota. Real ,people lost their jobs, and families had to move vulnerable seniors from a local facility to an unfamiliar place many miles away. A legislature that doesn't make seniors a priority this session will be a legislature that causes more lost jobs and displaced seniors.

I hope that Sen. Weber, Rep. Hamilton and Rep. Schomacker will implore their leadership after this break to help ensure seniors and their care givers are made a real priority as the legislature completes its work setting the state's budget for the next two years. Anything less than a 5 percent increase each of the next two years for our seniors and their caregivers is this legislature turning its back on seniors.

Barb Atchison

Administrator, Crossroads and South Shore Care Centers