Northfield's Sen. Dahle: Minnesota must make commitment to seniors and their care providers - Northfield MN: Opinion

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Northfield's Sen. Dahle: Minnesota must make commitment to seniors and their care providers

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Posted: Friday, February 22, 2013 1:50 pm | Updated: 5:55 pm, Fri Mar 1, 2013.

Recently, I visited the campus of Mala Strana, a health care center and skilled nursing facility in New Prague, to speak with administrators and caregivers. Administrators from the Northfield Retirement Center and Three Links Care Center were also present.

While I had planned for an ordinary, informational meeting, as I listened to the people who work there, I realized that we have a crisis regarding the support our seniors, nurses, administrators and other employees at Mala Strana receive. Even more troubling was learning that this failure of our state to provide for our seniors is endemic across Minnesota.

Because of stagnant state funding, Mala Strana and other long-term care facilities have been chronically understaffed. Due to budget constraints, wages have not kept up with inflation, with no increase in pay for workers in the last five years. Some of these dedicated employees live at the poverty level, working two or three jobs to make ends meet; they stay on with long-term care groups because of their commitment to their clients and the mission of the facility.

Without the ability to attract and maintain the skilled workforce that our seniors deserve, Mala Strana has seen massive turnover rates, compromising the quality of care they would otherwise be able to deliver.

This also raises overall administrative costs, further diminishing the resources that flow to those with chronic illness, in therapy, or in need of the many services that Mala Strana offers.

As is often the case with healthcare, the inability of staff to provide more preventative care raises overall costs to the state, as more expensive procedures are required later. On top of all this, a 1.67 percent cut in disability services is set to go into effect this summer. Clearly, something needs to be done.

As a result of my visit, as well as further conversations and research, I’ve been moved to adopt legislation designed to protect our seniors by giving facilities like Mala Strana the resources they need to continue to serve those in their care. I will be supporting bills to protect residents of nursing facilities and their families from maltreatment, sudden closures and transfers. The legislation would establish a long-term care consultation team, and provide for a badly-needed 5 percent increase in pay for those working with our seniors.

Others have also taken notice of the problems our aging population faces. The Governor’s budget proposal includes policy initiatives that seek to make Minnesota’s long-term care system more consumer-friendly and simpler to navigate. The Governor’s budget also provides a critical rate increase for all 376 nursing facilities in the state.

There is still more work to be done, but I am hopeful that these bills, the Governor’s budget and upcoming initiatives will begin to restore our commitment to Minnesota seniors and those who care for them.

To allow ourselves to be blind to the crisis affecting long-term care in Minnesota is to disregard the health and well-being of our families and friends. Something must be done.

Sen. Kevin Dahle (DFL) represents Minnesota Senate District 20.

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