ST. PAUL (AP) -- As Minnesotans age, they should be allowed to take risks so they can maintain maximum control of their lives, a state task force said.
The Long-Term Care Task Force is developing proposals for how nursing homes, home care and other services should be redesigned to meet the coming boom in its population of older citizens.
''But the first time something goes wrong -- someone takes a risk and has a bad outcome -- there will be pressure (on the Legislature) to fix it,'' warned Michael O'Keefe, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
Representatives of care providers, unions and advocates for older people testified Thursday that the task force has made a good start by setting goals that include creating a ''customer-centered'' system that helps people live independently as long as possible and allows them to make many decisions for themselves about where to live and what services to receive.
''But this question about risk versus autonomy is a very important one,'' said Gayle Kvenvold, president of Minnesota Health and Housing Alliance, which represents nonprofit nursing homes and assisted-living providers.
''It's come up before. When problems occur, the impulse is to pass a law to fix it,'' she said. ''Sometimes that's necessary, but often it merely results in unnecessary regulation'' in an industry that suffers from intense regulation.
And people who live at home instead of moving to a nursing home, must be given accurate information about those choices to ensure that they know the true risk, said Stephan Tradewell, director of the Metro Ombudsman Program, which handles complaints about long-term care.
''Ironically today, there is both an information gap and an information glut,'' said Tradewell, who also spoke on behalf of AARP, the Alzheimer's Association and the state Office of Ombudsman for Older Minnesotans. ''People can access long-term care information from pamphlets; yet so many feel overwhelmed and confused.''
Tradewell said the advocates support the task force's principle of encouraging financial planning for long-term care by people who have sufficient money, but encouraged members to maintain the ''Medicaid safety net'' for the poor and moderate-income people who need help paying for expensive nursing homes or other services.
The task force includes commissioners of the Department of Health and the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency as well as O'Keefe. It also includes six state senators and six state representatives. A report is expected late this year.
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