Legislature must act to prevent the collapse of senior care 

29 March 2022

Among the critical issues facing state lawmakers this session is the obligation to address severe workforce shortages in senior care. The state must take action or risk collapse of the sector throughout Minnesota.

At the start of the year, 23,000 caregiving jobs – approximately 20 percent of all positions – remained vacant. The impact has been staggering. Seventy-eight percent of nursing homes and 35 percent of assisted living facilities continue to turn away seniors who need their services due to staffing constraints.

Ten nursing homes in Minnesota have been forced to close their doors since the beginning of the pandemic, including three in 2022 alone. Just last week, county commissioners voted to close Ramsey County Care Center in Maplewood due to insurmountable operational costs. Ninety-five residents must be relocated. The impact of one closure is staggering, and dozens more face staffing crises that could lead to closure if lawmakers don’t act soon.

Senior care communities are stuck in a vicious cycle. Inadequate state funding means we can’t raise wages to recruit and retain caregivers. We can’t find the workers we need to care for the growing number of seniors who need care. And that means we can’t admit new residents into our settings. Fewer residents mean senior care settings cannot generate the revenue needed to operate. This is a sector that is on the brink of collapse, and we need state lawmakers to act now, before it’s too late.

A collapse of the senior care sector will have wide-ranging consequences; Minnesota seniors and their families will have difficulty accessing care they need when they need it in their home communities and hospitals may continue to experience backups as they struggle to find appropriate settings to discharge patients.

You may be asking why senior care settings don’t just raise caregiver wages on their own, just as many other employers have done. The answer lies in the role lawmakers play in controlling funding for senior care. State legislators set both Medicaid and private pay rates for nursing homes. If wages are going to permanently increase, funding must come from the state.

While funding for assisted living and other care options is different from nursing homes, the fundamental problem doesn’t change – the State of Minnesota is a critical partner in improving Medicaid reimbursement rates to support improved caregiver wages.

Patti Cullen

We applaud the lawmakers who have brought forward a proposal for permanent investments in Medicaid rates to improve wages and benefits for individuals working in senior care settings. The goal of this proposal is to raise the starting wage for senior care workers to $25 per hour by 2025. The bill – HF 3729 and SF 3195 – would dedicate $500 million to caregiver wages and would send a clear message that lawmakers recognize the severity of this crisis.

Much of the legislative discussion has been focused on one-time “hero pay” bonuses for frontline workers. While a bonus is long overdue and would show appreciation for the hardworking caregivers who sacrificed much during the pandemic, we need permanent solutions to keep these workers, to recruit workers to fill open positions, and ultimately to ensure access to care for seniors.

Kari Thurlow

We remain hopeful that given the state’s historic budget surplus, lawmakers will make seniors and caregivers their highest priorities. After all, a $500 million commitment represents less than 6 percent of Minnesota’s $9.25 billion budget surplus, a reasonable amount to ensure that Minnesota seniors retain access to the care they need. Without it, and without prioritization of funding for caregivers in the future, Minnesota’s long-term care system risks collapse.

As of this year, one million Minnesotans are 65 or older, and 70 percent of them will require some form of senior care by 2030. We can either invest in our elderly loved ones and their caregivers or watch as this essential sector collapses and access to long-term care diminishes. We hope the choice is clear for Minnesota’s leadership.

Patti Cullen is the CEO of Care Providers of Minnesota. Kari Thurlow is the CEO of LeadingAge Minnesota. Together, Care Providers of Minnesota and LeadingAge Minnesota make up the Long-Term Care Imperative. 

 

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