Minnesota consumer advocates on Tuesday told state legislators to put their money where their mouths are and provide “substantial funding increases” for elder care in addition to bringing their plans for legislative reforms and assisted living community licensure to fruition.

“Substantial increases in funding for the licensing and other protections must also accompany the legislative reforms or we simply have another unfunded mandate that won’t help our elders and vulnerable adults,” said Jean Peters, RN, CNP, vice president of Elder Voice Family Advocates, a Minnesota-based coalition of long-term care resident family members and others.

The Minnesota Senate leadership is “grossly underfunding elder care,” allocating less than $5 million for it, according to the organization. “This significantly lags behind the proposed budget of $31 million to $33 million from the Minnesota governor and House of Representatives,” the group said.

Elder Voice Family Advocates, with backing from AARP Minnesota and Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, also shared the findings of its review of a sample of 128 substantiated neglect reports from the state Office of Health Facility Complaints. The reports went as far back as 2015.

The agency found that assisted living and housing with services facilities were responsible for 79% of the neglect cases, individuals were responsible for 12% of cases, and both facilities and individuals were responsible for 9% of cases, according to the report. Increased funding could address some of these concerns, Elder Voice said.

In response to the report, Care Providers of Minnesota President and CEO Patti Cullen told McKnight’s Senior Living: “We also agree that even one case of abuse and neglect is unacceptable, and as a profession, we have been looking at initiatives focused on prevention. A combination of a good assisted licensure law, solid enforcement and prevention best practices will go a long way toward addressing the concerns in this report.”

Minnesota legislators are considering a bill that would devise a licensing system for assisted living communities as well as require them to follow minimum standards related to care and staffing levels. If passed, the Gopher State reportedly would become the last state to license assisted living settings. Current state law classifies assisted living communities, where more than 60,000 state residents live, as “housing with services” and requires registration instead of licensure.

Cullen and LeadingAge Minnesota President and CEO Gayle Kvenvold previously told McKnight’s Senior Living that their organizations back the ideas of licensure and reforms.

“We have been working with the consumer advocates and state agency for months on developing a package of proposals for older adult protection, including licensure of assisted living, electronic monitoring and dementia standards,” Cullen said Tuesday. “We, too, are hopeful some if not all of our work will be passed into law this legislative session.”

LeadingAge Minnesota also has been working with consumer advocates and state agencies on legislation, which also would “create greater transparency and improved communication with residents and families,” Kvenvold said.

“While we may not agree on everything, we are making progress towards our goal to get as close as possible to a consensus package for legislators to consider,” she said.

Kvenvold pointed to LeadingAge Minnesota’s Safe Care for Seniors initiative, launched in February, as one way the industry is addressing the types of concerns raised in the Elder Voice Family Advocates report. The effort, she said, adapts patient safety tools from acute care and primary care to long-term care.

“As important as legislative action is to protect older adults, we are not waiting for legislation to turn our full attention to preventing maltreatment before it can occur. …Preventing and eliminating the harm that can occur in the course of caregiving is ultimately the goal we all share,” Kvenvold said.

But like the consumer advocates, she said, “We also are underscoring to policymakers that it is not enough to just mandate quality and safety; we must fund it as well, not just for the sake of the residents and families at the heart of our work, but also for the sake of the thousands of caregivers who committed to providing safe, quality care to seniors every day.”

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