Not too late for Legislature to show it cares

Published 10:58 am Thursday, May 8, 2014

Guest Column by Bob Johannsen

Gov. Mark Dayton announced that he’s willing to invest more of the state’s surplus into important needs for our state.

Bob Johannsen

Bob Johannsen

While it’s very late in the 2014 legislative session, those of us who work in the senior care profession are hoping for just such a miracle from our leaders in St. Paul. Specifically, we need a 5 percent increase in funding for nursing homes — this year. Such an investment would help us forestall financial woes for one more year while we work on a long-term fix.

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You see, nursing home finance is very complicated in Minnesota. And without a long explanation, suffice it to say that we depend on the Legislature to make annual investments to keep up with inflation; otherwise, we start to fall behind, and we have little recourse to make up for the slow decline.

And it’s very sad, but fair, that even with a $1.2 billion surplus in 2014, the Legislature appears poised to deliver $0 for nursing homes this session.

But it’s not too late.

Of course it must be said, that nursing homes did receive an increase in 2013 for the first time in many years.  And the 2014 Legislature is making an investment in home-and-community based services, which provides services to seniors in assisted living settings. Those are very good things and should be applauded.

But we sadly report that as of May 7, neither the House nor the Senate nor the governor have pushed or are pushing for an across-the-board rate increase for nursing homes for 2014.  And nursing homes remain a key service within the continuum of care.

For more than a decade, the state’s budget has been balanced on the backs of seniors and the hard-working people who care for them. Years of funding cuts and freezes has led to a series of unfortunate events: low wages and benefits leading even our most dedicated caregivers to walk away for better-paying jobs; closure of nursing homes in rural communities; and suspending admissions, forcing many seniors to receive care far away from their homes and families.

Usually, these decisions were blamed on poor state finances. But in 2014, the state is solidly in the black.  It’s curious that even in good times, seniors and their caregivers would be left in significant need.

Minnesota is experiencing a rapid growth in the aging population at a time when state funding has not matched the increasing need under the current long-term care system. The challenges seniors and their caregivers face today will only grow more intense with the growth of our aging population and inadequate investments in care — even failing to account for inflation.

These challenges require commitment and leadership from all who are charged with ensuring a strong quality of life for aging Minnesotans — local providers, consumers and families, caregivers, legislators and the governor.  And we can’t take the risk of another stretch of deficits.  We must make hay while the sun is shining.

And our legislators know this — they have heard us personally. Just in April, state Rep. Shannon Savick told us that she is going to fight for us until the end — we believe her, and hope she’ll push her leadership to do the right thing.

In April, House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis appeared in Albert Lea to applaud his colleagues for their good work. He heard directly from us that they weren’t quite done, at least as it’s viewed by seniors and their caregivers. But we got the sense from him that our leaders weren’t hard at work on a solution for us, at least in 2014.

It’s not too late. We need leadership now from Gov. Dayton and the Legislature.

We’re applauding Rep. Savick for setting the tone, but we’re reduced to begging — again — for her voice to be heard in the full House and Senate in the waning days of the 2014 Legislature.


Bob Johannsen is the administrator of Parkview Care Center in Wells.