Nursing home

George Kinney Jr. hugs his mom Bunny on Dec. 23, 2020, at an assisted living facility Croixdale in Bayport, Minn. (Christine T. Nguyen/MPR News 2020)

Gov. Tim Walz said Monday he’s activating the National Guard to create skilled-nursing response teams to help short-staffed nursing homes. Walz also wants to spend $50 million in federal funding to help long-term care facilities hire and retain staff.

“Our long-term care facilities are facing an all-hands-on-deck moment, and that’s why we are taking unprecedented action to support skilled nursing workers, residents and patients,” Walz said in a statement. “I pledge to do whatever it takes to help Minnesota’s long-term care community get through this challenging time.”

More than 22,000 older and vulnerable Minnesotans receive care at roughly 365 skilled-nursing facilities across the state, according to the governor’s office.

Walz said 400 National Guard members will start training as certified nursing assistants and temporary nursing aides over the next seven days. The state Health Department will respond to requests from facilities that need help, and teams will be sent for up to three weeks at a time.

“One of the Minnesota National Guard’s pillars is people as they are our most valuable resource,” said said Army Maj. Gen. Shawn Manke, the Minnesota National Guard’s Adjutant General. “We acknowledge that we share this resource with employers, and we know these activations can disrupt their businesses and organizations. We appreciate the employers of our citizen-Soldiers and Airmen, as we could not conduct our federal, state, and community missions without their support.”

The $50 million would come from unspent federal COVID-19 relief funds and needs the approval of a legislative commission. Grants are expected to be distributed next month.

“We are facing unprecedented, record-level workforce shortages in long-term care communities across our state,” Patti Cullen, President and CEO of Care Providers of Minnesota said in a release from Walz’s office.

The announcement came as Minnesota Senate Republicans called on spending $150 to $200 million to help nursing homes in a special legislative session, if they can reach an agreement with Walz to call lawmakers back to St. Paul.

In a letter to Walz Monday, Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller said the aid would help long-term care providers retain and recruit staff and cut taxes and paperwork. The money would come from unspent federal COVID-19 relief funds.

The main agenda item for a special session would still be bonus pay for front-line pandemic workers, but Republicans and Democrats have been unable to agree on who should get how much. Drought relief for farmers is another issue that could be considered.

Walz has said he won’t call a special session if Republicans continue to threaten to fire state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, but there is nothing in Miller’s letter about that issue.

Since mid-October, more than 70 service members have supported COVID-19 communitybased testing at locations in Stillwater, Crookston, Hutchinson, Inver Grove Heights, Wadena, and Hibbing. Since the beginning of November, nearly 50 Guard members have supported transition care units at sites in Shakopee, Brainerd, and St. Paul.

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