Editorial Roundup: Nursing home workers deserve better pay

Published 8:50 pm Friday, December 23, 2022

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As the Mankato-North Mankato area and Minnesota are lauded for economic diversity, low unemployment and decreasing inflation compared to the rest of the U.S., a struggle still continues to staff nursing homes and pay those workers appropriately.

In 2022, Minnesota nursing homes reported staffing shortages worse than anywhere else in the country, according to a University of Minnesota report that explores COVID-19’s impact on low-wage health care workers. Those direct care workers are 85% women and 36% are people of color.

The pandemic made us well aware that nursing home employees are essential workers — extremely essential if any job deserves the qualifier. Their care of our most vulnerable population was key to the emotional and physical well-being of our loved ones who were isolated and suffering.

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The spread of the virus not only took a toll on nursing home populations, but many workers also got sick, took on heavier workloads, struggled with day care and at-home school for their children, and continued to be poorly paid.

The overall average wage for direct care workers was $14.72 per hour in 2020. Over 40% of direct care workers in Minnesota earn wages that are below 200% of the federal poverty line, and around 40% have insurance through Medicaid, Medicare or another public source, the report said.

So as the pay in many job sectors has climbed — including those who flip burgers and fill online package orders — the workers who take care of people are still struggling to make a living wage for intense physical and emotional work. The study cited that among health care workers, direct care workers have the highest rate of exit both before and after the start of the pandemic.

And not enough workers are taking those vacated jobs. Despite state programs that help potential personal care attendants pay for training and testing, if the field doesn’t pay better, those new workers won’t stay long.

The report offers a complicated but sensible solution: Rules must be changed for Medicaid and Medicare so that states can reimburse higher payments for direct care services.

In Minnesota, reimbursement and compensation rates for direct care workers are regulated through statute. The Legislature took steps in 2021 to provide inflationary adjustments in some sectors of direct care, but as the report urges, the state should explore where and how it can make more systematic changes.

Policies need to be changed to make sure compensation matches the demands of the job. The care of our elderly and vulnerable population and the fair treatment of the workers who provide to their needs can’t be pushed to the back burner in a state that touts its economic health.

— Mankato Free Press, Dec. 19

About Editorial Roundup

Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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