MOORHEAD, Minn. — Over the next three decades, the population of those 65 and over in the U.S. will nearly double. Many of those seniors will need extra medical attention. The problem is we’re not equipped to handle it. It’s already a problem now. We have a lack of funding, facilities and staffing, while costs are exorbitant.
Fortunately, Minnesota Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, has an excellent plan. Once again, Eken is pushing for a Constitutional amendment to raise $1 billion over two years for long-term care in Minnesota. Only 4% of Minnesotans, people making more than $137,700 a year, would pay the additional taxes to fund it. The $137,700 figure is where we foolishly have a cap on paying social security taxes.
“Providing proper long-term care is a major challenge,” Eken said. “We haven’t given this proper attention. We are falling behind. We can’t be ignoring the needs of our parents and grandparents.”
“We don’t have enough staffing,” said Julie Carter of Twin Valley. Carter has worked as a social worker at four nursing homes in northwestern Minnesota for 30 years. “People are leaving because the pay is low. Meantime, we’re not able to spend enough time with the residents. Residents who are 80 or 90 years old shouldn’t have to wait to go to the bathroom.”
Carter said at two of the nursing homes she has worked at, patients were turned away because of the lack of staffing. “We had the bed space, but we couldn’t do admissions because we didn’t have the staff,” Carter said. “It’s very frustrating.”
“Staffing is a constant challenge for us,” said Keith Okeson. He is the CEO of nursing homes in Roseau and Greenbush, Minn. “We have trouble finding nurses and certified nurse aides. If we find them, we have quick turnover.”
Okeson said nursing homes need much more funding from the state, which would come from Eken’s proposal. “We’re underfunded by the state,” Okeson said. “Nursing homes are losing money.”
Meantime, the costs to pay for care are brutal. Sally Nelson, 69, of Twin Valley, is in a nursing home in Ada, Minn. She is wheelchair bound, battling ovarian and breast cancer, and has some dementia. Sally needs assistance with eating and going to the bathroom.
Tom Nelson, Sally’s husband, pays a whopping $8,000 a month to the nursing home. “The costs were a shock,” Tom said. “It’s a real financial strain. We’ve paid taxes all our lives, saved our money, and didn’t spend extravagantly. It’s depleting my retirement money.”
Most of us will eventually need some long-term care. We need to do better for our vulnerable population. Minnesota already has Constitutionally dedicated funds for the arts and the outdoors, so it could certainly have a dedicated fund for care of its seniors.
“The least we can do is make sure in their senior years, people get the care they need,” Eken said.