Minnesota State Capitol Building Exterior, St. Paul Famous Government Dome
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A comprehensive health and human services reform bill passed Tuesday by the Minnesota Senate aims to address the state’s long-term care workforce crisis.

SF 4410 targets the 23,000 open caregiver positions in Minnesota’s long-term care industry, including personal care assistants and direct support professionals who work in assisted living and intermediate care facilities as well as nursing homes. The crisis, according to legislators, is being compounded by the closures of residential providers, driving older adults to other facilities already facing staffing shortages.

The legislation includes a $1 billion surplus priority, introduced by Sen. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka), to increase rates for the state’s long-term care, personal care and disability waiver rate service industries. This amount is in addition to the $322 million rescue package introduced earlier by Sen. Karin Housley (R-Stillwater) to address the staffing crisis in those facilities.

“SF 4410 makes vitally important investments in long-term care in the form of the ongoing, sustained investment in our workforce and structural changes into the payment systems,” Care Providers of Minnesota President and CEO Patti Cullen told McKnight’s Senior Living.  

The legislation, she said, would increase the phase-in of the 2017 Elderly Waiver rates from the current 18.8% to 27.2%. The EW program provides home- and community-based services for individuals who need nursing home levels of care, but who choose to live in the community. This investment, she said, marks a significant step in payment for EW and allows investment in the assisted living workforce.

“Improving the EW rate phase-in grants more seniors access to settings like assisted living, thereby keeping them closer to home and living with more independence,” Cullen said.

LeadingAge Minnesota President and CEO Kari Thurlow said that the increased investments in the EW program better reflect the actual cost of care. She told McKnight’s Senior Living that almost 30,000 Minnesota older adults receive care through the program, more than the total number of residents in the state’s nursing homes.

“The funding will help providers raise wages to recruit and retain caregivers needed to care for a growing number of seniors,” Thurlow said. “And second, it will help ensure seniors have access to the care they need, when and where they need it.”

The Senate bill invests in the long-term care workforce, she added, by providing permanent, structural funding “to help pay caregivers the wages they deserve, a critical step in filling the 23,000 open caregiver positions across our state.”

The legislation also includes $20 million to establish a new grant program for residential facilities in “significant financial distress.” Operators can apply for a grant from the commissioner of Human Services to provide sufficient funding to ensure the facility remains open long enough to comply with applicable termination of services notification requirements.

According to the bill, additional funding may be awarded if a facility is likely to remain open and financially viable after receiving the initial funding. Before receiving any additional funding, grantees must develop a business plan and corrective action to reduce the risk of future financial distress. 

“These provisions are aimed specifically at ensuring folks across the state have access to high quality medical care and services,” Sen. Paul Utke (R-Park Rapids), chairman of the state Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said in a statement. “By integrating innovative compact agreements into the bill, we are making Minnesota a desirable place to work for those in healthcare fields.”