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Editorial: Lawmakers’ work for the elderly not done

There’s confusion at the Capitol. Last session the Minnesota Legislature bumped up by 5 percent the rates paid to the nursing homes caring for our elderly and others. This year no increase is being considered for nursing homes. But at the same time a waiver program that helps keep seniors in their homes where they want to be or in assisted-living facilities is in line to get a 5 percent bump.

“Some legislators (are) saying, ‘We are giving 5 percent’ to nursing homes. No, you’re giving 5 percent for home- and community-based services. You’re not giving anything for nursing facilities. And yes, you gave us 5 percent last year, but it’s not enough to carry us over,” Patti Cullen, the president and CEO of Care Providers of Minnesota, said in an interview this week with members of the News Tribune editorial board. “We’re not giving up the fight. … We just repeat ourselves a lot even to reporters.”

In an effort to make perfectly clear to lawmakers what’s on the table this session and what’s not, Minnesota’s elderly-care community planned to descend on the Capitol hundreds-strong yesterday, blizzard be darned.

“Yay to 5 percent” for the waiver program, Cullen said, summarizing the message. “It’s in the right direction. It’s not negative. So that’s the good news. … But we are also continuing to ask for a 5 percent increase for nursing facilities, even though there is nothing on the table.”

Increases on both fronts of Minnesota’s too-oft-overlooked but on-the-verge-of-a-crisis long-term care initiatives are long overdue. Facilities were barely getting by in 2008 when the Legislature, blaming the recession, last made any effort to keep up with needs. State funding for nursing facilities went flat before last year’s increase while the waiver program saw 12.6 percent in cuts. Facilities closed. Others are just hanging on.

Whether the Legislature is able to offer more to nursing homes and other long-term care efforts this session, the confusion this year, the history of unpredictable and inadequate funding for something as critical as caring for our rapidly growing elderly population, and the increasingly desperate need for nurses and other workers in the industry all points to a must for innovation and change. A predictable, sustainable financing strategy would be a great place to start.

“This is kind of a call to action,” said Cullen, long active with Minnesota’s Long-Term Care Imperative.

Never has that need to work together and to make things better for the comfort and care of aging Minnesotans been more apparent than during the confusion of this legislative session. Action clearly is needed. So is systemic change.