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Nursing home officials say lack of state funds hurts residents

Tom Anderson of an Alexandria, Minn., right, nursing home tells a Minnesota House committee Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015, that he has difficulty hiring good workers because the state does not pay his facility enough. FORUM NEWS SERVICE/Don Davis

By Don Davis

 Minnesota nursing home workers can earn more money at Fleet Farm, Dairy Queen and a sugar beet processing plant than helping the elderly, nursing home administrators across the state complain.

That means, they told a House committee Wednesday, that nursing home residents are not getting care as good as they should. Staff turnover, they said, prevents nursing staff workers from knowing residents well enough to provide the best care.

"The current system is broken and curtails our ability to provide service," President Bruce Glanzer of Good Shepherd Community in Sauk Rapids testified.

Glanzer and other administrators, from rural and city nursing homes alike, said the state does not provide enough money to pay adequate wages. The state sets rates nursing homes may charge and the facilities have little to say about how much they pay workers.

Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, was not happy with what he heard.

"As a freshman legislator, I am embarrassed that we allowed this to happen," Baker said.

He told administrators to return home and tell people: "Help is on the way. ... If that doesn't happen, then we should not be in these seats."

The comments came during a House Aging and Long-Term Care Policy Committee discussion about nursing homes.

Committee Chairman Joe Schomacker, R-Luverne, and others presented a proposal Tuesday to change how the state pays nursing homes. The bill also is to call for more state money, which some in the nursing home industry say would be $200 million for the next two-year budget.

Glanzer said that nursing homes have little say when dealing with the state.

"We are the yo-yo and the Legislature pulls the string," he said.

Nursing home administrators who complained about lack of state funding face an even tougher time in coming years as baby boomers begin needing their facilities.

"We are entering the early stages of the boomer gateway," Loren Colman of the Human Services Department said.

High employee turnover is a major concern for nursing home officials.

"We grapple regularly with turning away seniors who need care," President Tom Anderson of Knute Nelson Care Center in Alexandria said, because he cannot hire enough staff to care for residents.

The center reduced the number of beds from 108 to 85 because of lack of employees, he said.

He said Knute Nelson loses nursing staff to hospitals, Fleet Farm and other places that pay more.

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Glanzer said he has been in the nursing home business 37 years, and because of state funding issues the last six have been tougher than the first 31 combined.

"The greatest problem we face is workforce issues," he said.

He said that his facility has 51 open jobs, resulting in 200 open nursing shifts for March. Existing employees are filling in for those open shifts.

Half of his nursing staff turns over in a year, he said.

Administrator Cami Peterson-DeVries of RenVilla Health Center in Renville echoed the wage problem.

"They can go to the sugar beet plant down the road and get more money..." she said. "We have no method of making up the difference."

A nearby hospital attracts the nursing staff from West Wind Village in Morris, Administrator Michael Syltie said.

The hospital pays $8 an hour more for registered nurses than state funds allow him to pay, Syltie said.

"When the hospital does have an opening, we lose one of our employees," he added.

The Morris facility has 15 full-time-equivalent openings in a 50-person staff, Syltie said.

"We are the only nursing home in Stevens County," he said, "so closing is not an option."

Maria Freidlund of Aitkin Health Services said that her facility extensively advertised for a nursing assistant, but has received no applicant in three months. "Zero is the number."

Freidlund said she had an applicant reject a job offer to stay at Dairy Queen.

She urged lawmakers to provide nursing homes the help they need.

"Don't leave long-term care and aging to luck," she said.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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