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Our View: Push aside politics to protect aging Minnesotans

At a legislative committee hearing last session in St. Paul, story after heartbreaking story was told about aging Minnesotans being neglected and even abused inside care facilities where they should have been safe -- where they and their families...

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Cameron Cardow/Cagle Cartoons

At a legislative committee hearing last session in St. Paul, story after heartbreaking story was told about aging Minnesotans being neglected and even abused inside care facilities where they should have been safe - where they and their families should have been able to expect nothing less.

One woman, in tears while sharing her mother's terrible tale of mistreatment, said, "This is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. This is a human issue," as Rep. Liz Olson of western Duluth recalled in a commentary in the News Tribune in March.

As immediately urgent as ending elder abuse is, and even though a task force called for "far-reaching policy and agency practice changes to prevent and deter abuse," and even though legislation was proposed to better monitor residents and to take more and quicker action when wrongdoing is suspected, the issue was among many important matters lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton failed to get done last year.

As nonpartisan as it should have been, something as important as protecting vulnerable adults shamefully ended up caught in partisan posturing and political wranglings.

The Legislature and newly elected Gov. Tim Walz owe it to all Minnesotans - our elderly and their loved ones in particular - to do better this year.

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So it was encouraging to read the front-page story Saturday in the News Tribune reporting that, "In 2019 the Legislature will again take up reforms aimed at keeping vulnerable and elderly Minnesotans safe and holding accountable those who are charged with their care," as investigative reporter Brooks Johnson wrote.

Reforms likely to be pursued include strengthening and expanding the rights of older and vulnerable adults and their families; enhancing criminal and civil enforcement; developing new licensure frameworks for assisted living and dementia care; and improving licensing regulation, enforcement, investigations, and reporting. All were recommended in January by a consumer-led task force called the Elder Abuse Consumer Work Group. A bill incorporating the recommendations failed to get even a hearing last session, as Johnson reported.

In Minnesota, assisted-living facilities aren't even required to be licensed.

"Because assisted-living facilities are not regulated, owners are able to provide services that are unlicensed, unregulated, and unsafe. This is wrong," Rep. Olson wrote in the spring. "There were more than 21,000 complaints of unsafe service made to the Minnesota Department of Health by families and care workers (in 2017). ... Families from Duluth have shared bone-chilling stories with me."

No more such stories. No more tears. For the health and safety of all aging Minnesotans, lawmakers can truly come together - DFL and Republican affiliations tossed aside for once, please - to address wrongdoing that unfathomably wasn't fixed immediately.

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