Oak Hills Living Center takes proactive approach to Capitol

A delegation of Oak Hills administrators and board members gather in the Governor's reception room at state capitol. The group was able to speak with Gov. Walz legislative assistant Richard Carlblom and discuss several issues facing rural nursing homes. The group urged Gov. Walz to to respond to the ongoing Medicaid funding delays. (L to R) Richard Carlblom, legislative assistant to Gov. Walz, Oak Hills Infection Control RN Anna MacHolda, Oak Hills Board member Pat Booker, Oak Hills Operations Manager Izzy Wittbrodt, Oak Hills board member Michael Boyle, board member Dr. Ann Vogel, Oak Hills administrator Candas Schouviller, RN Carolyn Varland and RN Connie Grams.

ST. PAUL – Oak Hills Living Center continues working to wake legislators up to funding and staffing issues in rural nursing homes.

On Monday, Oak Hills Living Center representatives traveled to the state capitol in St. Paul to discuss ongoing issues with state funding and offer potential solutions.

The group included Oak Hills administrator Candas Schouvieller; Oak Hills board members Dr. Ann Vogel, Pat Booker, and Michael Boyle; Registered Nurses (RN) Connie Grams and Carolyn Varland; and Oak Hills staff members Izzy Wittbrodt and Infection Control RN Anna MacHolda. The group would also be joined by New Ulm Business Resource and Innovation Center (NUBRIC) Director Paul Wessel at the capitol.

The Oak Hills delegation’s main meeting was with State Rep. Natalie Zeleznikar, a representative from northern Minnesota. After meeting with Zeleznikar, she agreed to write a bill that would create a pilot program for training Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA) at Oak Hills.

“The hope with the CNA pilot program is Oak Hills can get a teaching staff to be the regional center for CNA training,” said Oak Hills board member Dr. Ann Vogel. “It could alleviate the problem of recruiting and retaining CNAs.”

CNA recruitment for skilled nursing homes is difficult for rural nursing homes like Oak Hills. There is also a problem with retention. Rural nursing homes are prevented from offering competitive wages. Many CNAs leave senior care facilities for higher-paying positions at medical centers. Oak Hills is next door to the New Ulm Medical Center (NUMC)

“It is impossible to stay competitive with the current reimbursement setup,” said Oak Hills RN MacHold. “I referenced a 42% wage gap between hospital wages and nursing home wages just across the street. It’s impossible to hire nurses to cover the needs.”

The CNA pilot program will not resolve all the problems with the wage gap, but it’s a first step in seeking a solution.

“The idea is it could lead to more long-term funding,” Vogel said. The CNA pilot program could inspire state legislators to start looking at nursing home policy.

Vogel believes many legislators were unaware of the crisis faced by rural nursing homes. One of the reasons the Oak Hills group visited Rep. Zeleznikar is because she previously worked as a nursing home administrator before running for political office.

Vogel said Zeleznikar was on the same page as the Oak Hills people and understood their concerns from experience.

The CNA pilot request was only one of the concerns raised by the Oak Hills members. An ongoing concern was the reimbursement delays to rural nursing homes.

Minnesota is required to reimburse nursing homes for their Medicaid expenses after reviewing the nursing homes’ annual cost reports. However, for Oak Hills and other rural nursing homes, it takes the state Department of Human Services 18 to 24 months to review rural nursing home reports, while metropolitan facilities’ reports are usually completed within a year.

Vogel said the funding delay remains a top concern, but the group focused on the CNA pilot program as it was seen as a proactive step in waking up legislators to the issues facing Greater Minnesota.

“We’re not just here begging,” Vogel said. “We’re looking for the solution.”

If the CNA pilot program becomes a reality and is successful, it could be implemented elsewhere in the state.

Following the meeting with Zeleznikar, the Oak Hill group was able to have a short meeting with Richard Carlblom, the legislative assistant to Gov. Tim Walz.

“We encourage them to focus on strategies for stand-alone facilities rather than large corporations that buy up and close rural facilities and others delicense their beds,” said MacHolda.

Vogel said they were able to speak with Carlblom about several issues related to nursing and home, including the ongoing reimbursement issues.

Carlblom promised Oak Hills would receive a response from Gov. Walz on these issues before the end of the week.


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