Caring for the sickest and frailest of elderly patients who live in nursing homes can be one of the most physically and emotionally draining jobs out there.
So, many potential nursing home workers are opting to work at fast food restaurants or other businesses that pay more instead, a factor that has propelled the state's nursing homes into a state of financial crisis.
A study of Minnesota nursing homes recently found the state's nursing homes sank even deeper into financial crisis in 1999. If this trend continues, many nursing homes will need to close or consolidate.
"The frightening thing is how quickly this is happening," said Mike Gibson, administrator at Shady Lane Nursing Home in Wadena. "We have to do something now."
Darrel Schwartz, administrator at Lutheran Care Center in Little Falls, said his nursing home is licensed for 110 patients but is holding at 93 patients because they can't find the staff. They've lost $40,000 on average each year because residents have to be housed at a hospital instead of the nursing home because of a lack of employees.
The state Legislature controls what nursing homes may charge for more than 90 percent of residents. But nursing home administrators are forced to raise wages for their employees because they can't find enough staff.
Gayle Kvenvold, president and CEO of the Minnesota Health & Housing Alliance, was in Brainerd on Wednesday to discuss the organization's recent study. She said more than $107 million budgeted by the state Legislature for nursing homes in the last four years has not been spent for its intended purpose. A major factor is the decline in the days spent in nursing homes by medical assistance recipients. In general, the average nursing home stay has decreased from 4 1/2 to 5 years to 256 days in 1999.
"Nursing home financing needs to be overhauled," said Kvenvold. "The difficulty we have in recruiting and retaining employees, given the current reimbursement system, is an example of the problems we have."
Kvenvold said the possibility exists that nursing homes in smaller communities would need to be closed because of the financial crisis.
"This is not just about your grandma and grandpa, it's about what you'd want when you're old," she said. "If you need (a nursing home), you want one in your community."
Kvenvold said legislators and Gov. Jesse Ventura need to act during the current session to address these nursing home financial problems. First, legislators need to increase what the state pays facilities and to improve a nursing home's ability to compete in the tight job market. In addition, the state needs to end funding penalties against facilities with unused beds and give them more flexibility to use trained staff to assist residents with meals. There is legislation now pending in both the House and Senate on this issue.
Of the $1.8 billion state surplus this year is $46 million, money that was appropriated but not spent on nursing home care.
"No one anywhere is doing well," said Kvenvold. "The 1999 financials weren't pretty anywhere and in some places they were ugly."
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