Minnesota nursing home officials make a convincing case that their industry is in severe financial distress. They feel it's a serious enough emergency to warrant legislative spending in a non-budget year.
While they have some legislative support in their corner, the industry's real challenge might be to convince Gov. Jesse Ventura that the bills to aid the financially strapped nursing homes merit his signature in a year when he has discouraged any new spending bills.
The nursing homes are caught in a real crunch between state regulations and a job market that makes it tough to recruit and retain employees for demanding jobs at nursing homes. They are also suffering from a sharp decline in the length of stay for residents at their homes.
While care providers at nursing homes often find great satisfaction in their jobs, there's no denying the demands of the profession. The needs of the residents must be met, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including holidays. As Gayle M. Kvenvold, president and CEO of the Minnesota Health and Housing Alliance, said last week it's a profession that's low tech and high touch.
Nursing homes have found they will lose employees to other businesses if they don't at least try to stay competitive with their pay scales. However, with 75 percent of the residents on medical assistance the state sets the rates nursing homes can charge. This dictates how much money will be available for wages. Thirty-two percent of the alliance's members, had to turn away residents in 1999 because of a lack of staff. The figure was 23 percent in 1998.
Two other major shifts in philosophy have resulted in empty nursing home beds and financial problems for the industry.
The average stay for a resident has decreased from 4 1/2 to five years to 256 days in 1999. The success of assisted living programs (sometimes in programs offered by the nursing homes themselves) has created some of the empty beds.
The industry, with the cooperation of state government, must move quickly to adjust to this more fluid clientele. If nothing is done soon we will see more nursing homes close at a time when the average age of Americans continues to get older.
Short legislative sessions are notorious for short-changing worthy causes. With legislative leaders expecting to adjourn by late April, it's unlikely the nursing home industry will get everything it requests.
There's ample evidence the public and lawmakers want to help the industry. This year the state's $1.8 billion budget surplus contains $46 million that was appropriated but not spent for nursing homes because of declining enrollment. Nursing home administrators claim the state has spent $107 million less than it appropriated in the last four years.
The Legislature should provide some emergency financial relief for the nursing homes this year and start the process of structuring a reimbursement system that will allow the homes to offer competitive wages and remain solvent.
State aid is needed to stem
nursing homes' fiscal crisis
It's now projected that Minnesota will have a budget surplus that is more than $1.8 billion.
What to do with the surplus is certain to headline many a debate by our elected officials in upcoming weeks.
Some will argue that it should be given back to the taxpayers. Others will argue that it should be kept for future projects.
There is no reason why both sides can't be happy.
Minnesotans would welcome a check from the state.
But Minnesota, despite a booming economy, has plenty of needs that are currently being unmet by state programs. Roads need repair. So do many rural wastewater treatment facilities. School buildings need some work. In other words, our infrastructure has needs that must soon be addressed.
There is no reason why both sides can't come to an agreement that will provide some help now as well as help shore up weak areas.
-- Daily Globe of Worthington
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