Elder care reform package on way to governor's desk

Lawmakers have passed a sweeping reform package for the care of elderly people and vulnerable adults across Minnesota. The measure now heads to Gov. Tim Walz.

The bill includes wide-ranging consumer protections for people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. It includes more oversight for the state's Office of Health Facility Complaints and a new licensing system for assisted living facilities. There are also new regulations and a task force to improve safety and quality of care in long-term care facilities.

The bill also gives nursing home and assisted living residents the right to use electronic monitoring devices, like cameras, in their rooms.

The changes come after reports of widespread neglect and abuse in Minnesota care facilities, and a legislative audit that found major deficiencies in state oversight.

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GOP state Sen. Karin Housley, of St. Mary's Point, hailed the changes, describing them as a "huge lift." She said they've been a long time coming.

"We were the only state in the nation who didn't have licensure yet," she told legislators. "So getting all of the stakeholders together and getting a framework around how the department of health could have regulatory authority over our assisted living, was a big, big agreement."

However, Republican Sen. Torrey Westrom, of Elbow Lake, voiced his objection to losing licensing accommodations for small rural facilities.

"Rather than having smaller facilities built in a rural county with less critical mass, is their seniors and parents and loved ones are going to have to move further away, to find any facility that's licensed as an assisted living, because they're simply going to be built in the bigger towns, and the regional centers, and they can have the critical mass to afford the cost of having awake staff all through the night," he said.