The pressure is increasing to address record low long-term care staffing levels at the Minnesota Legislature.
State Senate Republicans outlined a proposal Thursday to spend $322 million on $1,000 bonuses to staff members who stay on in their current roles, as well as signing bonuses for those who decide to join the industry. The plan also calls for grants to cover costs of education and training.
"Our long-term care facilities, our assisted living [centers], our nursing homes have been just decimated by COVID and we are in a real crisis,” said Karin Housley, R-Stillwater. “They were in a crisis even before COVID.”
Operators agree staffing concerns existed before the pandemic, but they say the problem was made much worse by COVID-19 in the last year — and in part because the job market offers opportunities for higher pay for less stressful work. Some nursing home operators said they lost employees because of vaccine mandates.
Long-term care advocacy groups have estimated more than 20,000 open positions in Minnesota over the last six months. They warned nursing homes and group homes may close because they can’t provide a base level of care.
State Sen. Jim Abeler said the GOP plan uses general fund dollars to “begin to stabilize the industry, get some more people into it, and then try to reform it so we actually have a system that works.” The Anoka Republican added, “This is the beginning, not the end."
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Gov. Tim Walz has unveiled a budget that would also give long-term care workers retention bonuses and has a plan to give all front line workers, including those in long-term care, $1,500 payments.
Long-term care organizations have been advocating for a change in reimbursement rates for nursing homes, which are set by the state. That issue is not addressed in the latest proposal. Operators say such a change would allow them to pay employees more competitive wages.
Christina Kurschner, who runs the respite site at Mt Olivet Rolling Acres, said the company has 80 full-time openings.
“The respite program closed again in early December due to our company's inability to staff our group homes,” she said. “We also had to shut the doors of some of our other group homes and ask people who are living in these houses to go other places, sometimes back to their house, sometimes they were moved to a different home.”
Kurschner said she doesn’t expect to see employees who have left to return, and she fears the ones who have stayed so far may leave soon if the positions aren’t filled.