State view: Minnesota needs to invest in senior careStadiums may dominate headlines from St. Paul, but other priorities ought to dominate lawmakers’ attention as they prepare to wrap up this legislative session and shift into campaign season. Seniors and their caregivers should be at the top of that priority list.
By: Patti Cullen and Gayle Kvenvold, Duluth News Tribune
Stadiums may dominate headlines from St. Paul, but other priorities ought to dominate lawmakers’ attention as they prepare to wrap up this legislative session and shift into campaign season. Seniors and their caregivers should be at the top of that priority list.
For years we’ve talked about the need for investment in the care of our elderly. Perhaps to some this seemed like a problem for another day, but that time is now.
Over the next 10 years, the population of Minnesotans older than 65 will grow by more than 40 percent. By 2020, seniors will outnumber schoolchildren in our state.
For many of these seniors, some type of assistance will be needed, and the need will increase as they age. Traditionally, family members and other informal caregivers have taken on the bulk of caring for aging family and friends. However, families today are more geographically dispersed. The traditional caregiver (an adult daughter) may no longer live in the same city or state as her aging parents. And the relatively small size of Generation X compared to the Baby Boomers means there just aren’t enough informal caregivers to meet the demand for care.
These changing dynamics elevate the importance and value we must place on our work force of paid caregivers. The first step toward ensuring quality care for all seniors is investing in the people who care for them. It is why we should all be concerned that the majority of caregivers in Minnesota have not had a wage increase in four years because of state-imposed freezes on payment rates.
We also know a strong senior-care system means having a diverse range of options. Not so long ago, seniors had only one choice when they could no longer live safely at home: a nursing home. Today, nursing homes are the exception, not the rule. Seniors can take advantage of home care and assisted-living options that not only preserve independence but save the state a staggering amount of money. The state can support three seniors in assisted living or in the community for the same cost to support one senior in a nursing home.
And yet, the Elderly Waiver program — the only state program that pays for low-income seniors to receive home care or assisted living — has seen devastating cuts in recent years. This trend has a significant local impact; there are assisted-living providers in St. Louis County for whom a majority of residents rely on Elderly Waiver to pay for their care.
We do not expect our political leaders to manufacture a miracle this legislative session, but some steps have to be taken now.
First, invest in caregivers. The state dictates payment rates that control the wages for a majority of senior caregivers. We absolutely must invest in wages that attract and retain the very best caregivers, paying them adequately for the demanding work they do.
Also, invest in a range of options for quality senior care. Fund the programs that make it possible for seniors to access care in the place that’s right for them, from home care to
assisted-living and skilled-nursing facilities. Investing in the full range of options will offer greater independence and quality of life for seniors while significantly reducing costs to the state.
Finally, create financial stability for seniors and families. Pass policies that help people prepare for their own care needs. A bill introduced this session would allow seniors to convert life insurance policies to pay for long-term care. This would be a good start. Equally important is a strong safety net for low-income seniors. Financial means should not be a barrier to accessing quality senior care.
Issues of aging matter to us all. As the state gets closer to reaching a stadium-funding deal, legislators should make sure they don’t drop the ball when it comes to seniors and their caregivers.
Patti Cullen is president and CEO of Care Providers of Minnesota, which is based in Bloomington, Minn.; and Gayle Kvenvold is president and CEO of St. Paul-based Aging Services of Minnesota. They wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune as members of the Long-Term Care Imperative, a partnership of their associations dedicated to advancing positive change in older-adult services.