Funding Nursing Homes: Priority for our Community

clip_splashwalk.jpgI would like to respond to questions I am hearing about the funding of nursing homes in our communities. Nursing homes, especially in rural areas, are under-funded, and have been for a good portion of this decade.  Our older relatives and friends have given so much to our community and I believe it is vital for us to commit the adequate funds to provide diversity in resources and comfortable living conditions.  In addition, the skilled and unskilled care workers who care for them have seen little income improvement due to the reimbursement structure nursing homes must live with.

Improving this is a priority for our community, and while we have made positive strides, more work is needed to address the concerns of nursing homes in our area.

I was an advocate for the increased funding of nursing homes this past legislative session and voted yes for a Health and Human Services bill that would have increased funding to nursing homes by 6% over the next two years.  This was a substantial increase centered on the needs of rural nursing homes, and aimed toward reversing a disconcerting funding trend.  In fact, in 2004-05, the legislature provided a minuscule increase of one-half of 1 percent.  In 2006-07, funding was not restored at all.

Additionally, I authored a bill that would have delivered more funds specifically to retirement homes in Northfield by including them in the Metro Reimbursement Pool.  Unfortunately, Northfield Retirement Center and Three Links sit just outside of an arbitrary metro-line, which precluded them from receiving funds from the Metro Reimbursement Pool.  This arbitrary boundary makes it harder for them to compete for the same pool of workers because they are unable to offer the same wages.  This bill was regrettably taken out of the final bill in conference committee, but is an issue I will continue to champion.

Unfortunately many bills like this were put on the chopping block due to Governor Pawlenty's veto of the Health and Human Services bill.  This veto erased the 6% increase in nursing home funding and forced us to make difficult choices with respect to our severely troubled health care system. 

Along with increasing funds for nursing homes, it was critical to provide more health coverage to needy children, ensure better child care options for single parents and attend to much needed concerns for mental health programs.  As a result, nursing home funding received a smaller increase than in the initial bill I voted for.  I wish we could have included the 6% increase in nursing home funding, but I am proud, among other things, we were able to provide health care for 30,000 more uninsured kids. 

Its important to balance priorities, and funding nursing home increases on the backs of uninsured children and single mothers is unacceptable.  I am committed to adequately addressing both concerns.

While more comprehensive attention needs to follow, we did make positive strides for nursing homes this Session.  Nursing home funding constituted the single largest increase of all new general funds spending at a level of 40%.  Contrary to those who have alleged that welfare increases trumped nursing homes, the new spending increase for nursing homes doubled those for MFIP and TANF funds.  And in terms of base budget, long term care spending is more than triple the amount spent on welfare.  

The long-term care industry is changing and presenting more and more challenges.  I am optimistic we have ventured down a path leading us toward ample long-term care for our seniors.  What is most encouraging is the manner in which the three nursing homes in my district have responded, becoming leaders in the evolving industry. The Northfield Retirement Center and Three Links offer terrific care and diverse services with the resources they have been provided.  We must match their ingenuity at the State Capitol next session to continue on the right path.

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