Our 10-week legislative session is now almost half over.
Most of this week consisted of long hours in committees satisfying what’s known as the “first deadline.” For many bills to remain alive, they must have been heard in either the House or Senate by the end of Friday. It’s a bit like finals week in college where we spend most of our waking hours together getting our work done.
One of the important bills heard early last week was the “Best Life Alliance’s” 5-percent rate increase for home and community-based care providers. You may recall last year we raised rates for nursing home workers by 5 percent. People who care for our loved ones are woefully underpaid which makes those tough positions harder to fill and leaves gaps in care.
Last week I was visited by Alex and a couple of friends who came to remind me how important it is to them to be able to receive the services their care workers provide. Because of the support they have they can participate and contribute to the communities they live in. They explained that they do become attached to the workers and really hate when they are forced to leave for better wages.
Since we took the step to support, attract and retain more nursing home workers last year, we’ve seen great results. Unfortunately, the dedicated staff that provide home and community-based services are now at a competitive disadvantage. The Best Life Alliance is a bipartisan group of organizations and people advocating to provide a 5 percent increase for those providing care in community settings or in people’s homes. There are two really important reasons why we should support these caregivers.
First, home and community-based providers help maintain the greatest quality of life possible for people. The disabled adults and elderly people who live in community settings or are able to stay in their homes enjoy being able to live, work or otherwise continue to be a part of the larger community. People thrive when they’re given new opportunities or can remain in the familiar and comfortable setting of their home.
Second, home and community-based care can save the state money. Disabled people who would have been in costly and grim institutions now can live in community settings with personalized services based on their needs. People can also avoid or delay entering expensive nursing homes when they’re able to stay at home with a bit of help.
Without adequate wages, we’re going to see the shortage of people able or willing to provide this care grow, which will in turn force more people into nursing homes or care settings that are less fulfilling, alienating and more costly.
Thousands of Minnesotans benefit from the care they receive in community settings or in their homes, whether they’re elderly or disabled. That care is often provided by dedicated people who work for wages far below what they deserve. Seven years ago when we were cutting funds that went to these workers I stood on the House floor to oppose those cuts and spoke about my father who would take me along with his boy scout troop to visit the disabled in the Faribault State setting. He told me of the time he spent in an isolated institution and that “we must never forget to extend a hand of care to those who cannot care for themselves.”
I know we must not forget.