Nursing home advocates Zoom to get attention from legislators on care needs
NEW ULM — Local representatives of Oak Hills Living Center and other supporters of senior care facilities are demanding state legislators take action on the growing staff crisis in nursing homes, but it remains unclear if anyone at the capital is listening.
For years, many people in Brown County have been sounding the alarm on staffing shortages facing nursing homes. Dr. Ann Vogel has been the loudest voice of concern. Others from Oak Hills and surrounding care facilities have joined her in demanding an increase in funding for care facilities and fixing restrictive laws that prevent care facilities from charging more than Medicaid.
Wednesday, a panel of individuals representing Oak Hills participated in Zoom calls with State Rep. Peter Fischer and State Sen. Jim Abler to discuss the need for greater funding.
The Zoom calls were conducted in the New Ulm City Hall Chambers with a room full of concerned citizens who wanted to know why the nursing home shortages are not a greater priority at the state. The current budget proposed by Gov. Tim Walz does not include any additional funding for nursing homes.
During the Zoom meetings, Oak Hills Foundation member Wendy Broderson said the state needed to pass funding to better compensate skilled nursing facilities. Funding bills were brought before the house and senate. The two bills are House File 733 and Senate File 780.
Broderson made it clear Oak Hills wanted HF 733 and SF 780 to pass to ensure the senior care facility could continue to operate.
She also warned against passing SF 1621, as it would force the state to create a Nursing Home Workforce Standard Board, creating additional unfunded regulations that would further hurt struggling nursing homes. Broderson begged the legislators not to saddle Oak Hill and another nursing home with more unfunded requirements.
During the Zoom call, Rep. Fischer claimed there was already an $800 million increase for senior care facilities built into the budget as an automatic increase.
Broderson said that was news to everyone in New Ulm, as no other legislator has mentioned any additional funding. The panel had received very little communication from legislators on this issue.
Fischer promised to inform House Human Service Chair Rep. Mohamud Noor that New Ulm citizens were frustrated with a lack of communication with the legislature on long-term care issues.
Fischer said the House was looking for a holistic approach to the nursing crisis. He said it was not just about money and compensation, but finding workers to fill the vacant position. This included bringing workers into the state or possibly bringing new workers into the country.
A second Zoom call was held with Sen. Jim Abeler. Sen. John Hoffman was supposed to be on the call as well but was unable to attend. Abeler was forced to leave the call after less than 10 minutes, claiming he needed to attend a meeting with Hoffman on the long-term care bill.
During the talk, Abeler said the senate would present a bill the next day that would include funding for nursing home staff but he was uncertain how much was in the bill. He promised it had more funding than Gov. Walz’s bill, which currently contained zero funding.
Abeler was also in favor of dropping the equalization law prohibiting nursing homes from charging their private pay residents more than the rates paid by Medicare. Only Minnesota and North Dakota have his law. Abeler said regulations would have been removed already if not for pushback from AARP.
“I am totally on your side and deeply committed,” Abeler said. He acknowledged that Sen. Hoffman was also deeply committed to the issue.
He advised the panel and citizens to reach out to other legislators and the governor to have their voices heard.
Following the call, Oak Hills Board member Mike Furth said he appreciated Abeler’s advice, but said they have already tried this and received no response.
Dr. Vogel said she has sent several messages to Gov. Walz on this issue but has received no response. Vogel also tried to contact House Health and Human Service Chairman Mohamund Noor multiple times but got no response.
New Ulm Mayor Kathleen Backer said the legislators who refused to listen should be ashamed.
“Shame on Gov. Walz if he doesn’t start listening,” Backer said. “He has a responsibility to do that and give some kind of response.”
Backer added that it is impossible to know if anyone is listening if they won’t respond.
“I absolutely can’t think of saying that we are done,” Vogel said. “I know what happens if this nursing home closes. It will be more than devastating.”
Former Oak Hills Board member Tom Henderson said there are 191 people on a waiting list to get into Oak Hills. There were 220 referrals from other medical facilities because surrounding nursing homes were closing. Oak Hills is also losing staff to New Ulm Medical Center (NUMC) which can offer better pay and is located next to Oak Hills.
“We are in a very frustrating position,” Henderson said.
Staffing shortages at nursing homes and long-term care facilities are forcing some facilities to turn away seniors. In October, over 11,000 Minnesota seniors were turned away from long-term care facilities in a single month.
There are currently over 20,000 open long-term caregiver positions in the state. The problem is only expected to increase as the number of seniors grows. Minnesota will have another 50,000 residents turning 80 within the next 5 years.
In the last two years, nursing homes in Redwood Falls, Fairfax, Winthrop and Crookston closed. If Oak Hills were forced to close, residents might need to seek care out of state.
The panel included high school representatives Joey Kotten and Dorthia Grubbs, who work at local care facilities.
“I love my job there and the people there,” Kotten said. “I am taking care of people who can’t help themselves and I can’t imagine where they will go if Oak Hills is not around.”
Grubbs works at Woodstone and Oak Hills and said the residents are like her family and for many, she is their only family. She added those with family are not necessarily able to provide the same level of care as a nursing home.
“Love for a family member does not equal an ability to care for that person,” Grubbs said. “For some families, in-home care might not be possible based on the loved one’s medical needs.”
Vogel agreed the problems facing long-term care facilities are preventable, but the consequences of doing nothing would be pervasive.
Dr. Mario DeSouza said when hospitals are unable to send patients to nursing homes because of medication or equipment costs, seniors remain in the hospital bed and the hospital goes on deferment.
When a hospital is under deferment, it can’t take any new patients. This will impact everyone, including young people with easily treatable conditions. This creates a disruption forcing other patients to be sent to other facilities.
“It affects everybody,” DeSouza said.
Another concern was the 20-month delay in reimbursement. It is currently taking 20 months for the state to reimburse rural nursing homes for expenses.
Furth called this a recipe for bankruptcy that legislators have no interest in changing. It was also noted these reimbursement delays were only issued in rural care facilities. Metro nursing homes receive reimbursement quicker.
Broderson said the immediate crisis is gettomg the funding to stay open, the next step is to continue advocating to fix the entire problem instead of putting a Band-aid on it. She said they have been chirping on these issues for years, but legislators have not seen it as a top priority.
Broderson asked everyone attending the meeting to write letters to the editor and to legislators to show them citizens care about this issue. Letters and calls should include support for HF 733 and SF 780.
A rally to support funding for senior care facilities is planned for 1 p.m. Thursday outside the House Chamber in the Capitol building in St. Paul. There will be a meeting at 1:30 p.m. for a press conference in the capitol press room.
Another Zoom meeting with State Sen. Karin Housley is set for 3 p.m. Monday, April 3. The public is invited to attend the Zoom call in the City Hall Chamber.