"Heart-wrenching" is the only phrase I could muster after reading the Dec. 13 Star Tribune special report ("Desperate at 'Death Ridge' ") on the devastating toll COVID-19 has played on our senior population. In particular, the epic failure to contain the spread of this deadly virus at North Ridge Health and Rehab in New Hope, comes right out of a horror movie! Being caught flat-footed and wholly unprepared at the facility back in March exposed the cracks and wide crevices of oversight that surely continue to this day. Of course, North Ridge is not the only nursing home or assisted living facility with lax hygiene protocols, according to many news reports. Still, the industry is due for an overhaul.
Paying workers what they're worth is a good start. Higher pay for nursing assistants, cooks and custodians and other front-line workers is paramount. Whether it is the taxpaying public or "for-profit" associations that ought to pony up, something must be done to ensure that workers are valued. Dignity for both the caretaker and vulnerable senior citizen is at issue, along with safety and prevention from illness and death. Low pay is a disincentive to care after all.
Acquiring enough personal protection equipment is another goal that requires financial investment. More money for training support staff to be responsive to the patient or client is also essential. Put simply, hire more staff! Rigorous stewardship from management also ensures that the patient is safe from harm or neglect. Where have they been all this time?
The pandemic has brought to light the incredible weaknesses in our protective systems for vulnerable adults. It is high time we demand legislative action on this daunting and complex issue. Lives are at risk!
Sharon E. Carlson, Andover
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The 12-fold increase in profitability North Ridge enjoyed over four years is a direct result of inadequate staffing and investment in the care of its residents and staff. The Minnesota Department of Health and building management must be held to account for repeatedly looking the other way, as safety and health infractions were ignored or minimized over several years. Residents and families trusted the state to provide support and care for their loved one, and North Ridge failed to perform.
In addition to the documented inhumanity displayed by facility leadership, current lobbying efforts underway on both the national and state levels would increase the damage. What is described as "liability protections for employers" is an effort to absolve facility owners of all liability for COVID-related deaths and injuries. The neglected and abused adults most harmed by the impact of greed and mismanagement would have no recourse to legal measures to address the unnecessary pain and suffering caused by North Ridge.
Mary Jo Schifsky, Minneapolis
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Never in my life have a read a more disturbing and heart-wrenching article. Star Tribune reporters Chris Serres and Glenn Howatt have done a public service beyond measure and deserve a Pulitzer for this exposé. It is my fervent hope that some competent, enterprising lawyers out there litigate the North Ridge nursing home and its equity firm owner out of existence.
Roberta S. Duffy, Denmark Township (Washington County)
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The loss of life is staggering at this facility and the lack of proper management and oversight is obvious, here is a point I think the Star Tribune missed.
My mother lives in this facility and has for years. She is an avid reader of your newspaper. So, while you are informing the public of what is happening here, you are distressing and causing anxiety to those who remain there and their families. "Death Ridge" is now their label, and how depressing is this to an already dire situation? I feel like you all forget that living, breathing people with few alternatives at this point reside here. A little sensitivity goes a long way right now. While the family does appreciate your covering this, please be aware of the label and what this can do the residents who are trying to remain optimistic of their chances. Our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones and to my mother, who has lost her friends.
Lisa May, Shreveport, La.
'NATURE OVER NURTURE'
Well, this is what you get trying to do the right thing
To the North Mankato City Council and Ed Borchardt's neighbors, you have it backward ("Nature over nurture puts bee in neighbors' bonnets," Dec. 13). Borchardt deserves your congratulations, rather than condemnation. He has used his property and his considerable expertise to show how a city yard can bring back life and health to a community.
He could have planted a desert of sterile grass that harbors no life and needs a constant infusion of fertilizers and pesticides that run off into our lakes and rivers. Instead, he created a sanctuary for the pollinators and birds that we are losing, and for the small creatures that make up a part of a living ecosystem. That is a beautiful thing.
He is showing us how to re envision our individual roles in sustaining our environment. As we, with new eyes, see lawns interspersed with non-native plants not as an ideal but as an issue to be improved upon, property values near to him should rise instead of fall.
Mankato, you are lucky to have Ed Borchardt. Use him as your resource. Learn from him.
He has got it right.
Pam Landers, Nisswa, Minn.
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Surely I am not the only one to see the laughable irony in two stories in the Minnesota section of last Sunday's Star Tribune? On the one hand, the state seems to be close to going all-in on allowing the Chilean mining company, "copper king Antofagasta," to potentially contaminate a large slice of the irreplaceable Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness ("Zero room for error," Dec. 13). This despite a history of past failures at other similar mines. On the other hand, the North Mankato City Council comes down hard on former botany Prof. Ed Borchardt for allowing plants, shrubs, bushes to grow in his yard — growth that will inevitably encourage "the infestation … of plants, animals and birds." But the same city and state is encouraging pollinator gardens and less grass. Neither hand has a clue what the other is doing. Pollute the BWCA — maybe. Encourage the arrival of dreaded bees, butterflies and birds — not a chance!
One other observation: Has anyone asked why, if there is such an abundance of mineral wealth in northern Minnesota, a company in our own country is not trying to mine it, instead of a Chilean company? I thought "America First" was a popular political mantra these days. Maybe I just missed the memo.
Wayne L. Hornicek, St. Paul
Opinion editor's note: Responses to the Dec. 13 mining article from the chief regulatory officer for Twin Metals Minnesota and from the executive director of Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, along with several members and members-elect of the Minnesota Legislature, will be included in Monday's opinion presentation.