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This year Minnesota became home to 1 million seniors. We are shocked that legislators adjourned the 2022 session without any commitment to address the deep and pervasive crisis in long-term care that is already limiting access to care for the state's seniors and will continue.
The caregiving crisis for seniors and their families intensifies each week. Hundreds of care settings have been forced to refuse new admissions, close rooms or shutter entire wings in response to staff shortages. Meanwhile, seniors who are denied access are forced to look for settings sometimes hours away from their home communities and families.
In some cases, seniors are waiting six months to be discharged from a hospital into transitional care. Without more staff, there is nowhere for them to go. The implications of stalled hospital discharges on the entire health care system became quite evident during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when hospital beds were completely full.
The average nursing home is on track to lose more than $800,000 this year. Just to cover daily operating expenses like payroll, most long-term-care communities have depleted reserves or are on track to do so in the next few months. Many of Minnesota's long-term-care providers are operating deeply in the red, struggling to get short-term loans from local banks. Despite these dire financial conditions, many have used short-term fixes to recruit more staff and pay higher wages.
For months, we have sounded the alarm about the shortfall of caregivers. Since last fall, there have been more than 23,000 open positions across Minnesota — vacancies that are preventing seniors in need of care from being admitted to nursing homes or assisted-living settings.
For too long, caregiving has not received the attention it deserves, recognizing that it is a professional career and honorable calling. Those of us in the field see firsthand the skill, diligence and compassion that defines our diverse workforce of dedicated caregivers, especially in light of their tireless efforts over the last two years. It's time to recognize caregivers with a wage that reflects the profound work they do.
During the 2022 session, senior care became a critical part of the debate. The Minnesota Senate approved substantial funding to increase base wages for aging services workers on a bipartisan basis. The House and governor did not follow suit, and end-of-session discussions about the human services bill became bogged down in disagreements and ultimately stalled.
Adequate funding for senior care is a state responsibility and a moral imperative. Minnesotans know this. A recent survey of Minnesota nursing homes and assisted-living facilities found that 450 settings may close if no action is taken by the state. For every facility that closes its doors, dozens of others are turning seniors away, even though there are available beds. Without the workforce to provide an appropriate level of care, we will continue to see seniors struggling to find the support they desperately need.
The current funding structure for senior care is failing Minnesota's seniors and their caregivers. But when asked to comment for a recent MinnPost article, a leading state agency official called the funding request a "windfall" and implied the state funding system is working just fine.
Community leaders, legislators, caregivers, older adults and the families of seniors need to speak up: With 1 million seniors today and a long-term-care sector on the brink of collapse, what about this system is working just fine? We need real leadership by our state's elected officials.
Patti Cullen is president and CEO of Care Providers of Minnesota. Kari Thurlow is president and CEO of LeadingAge Minnesota.