Dan Sparks: Saving our rural nursing homes

Published 4:58 pm Saturday, March 14, 2015

By Dan Sparks

State Senator, District 27

For years, nursing homes in rural areas across the state have struggled with an uneven funding system.

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As the state’s population ages and rates continue to rise, the mounting pressure on rural nursing homes is nearing the breaking point.

My colleague, Sen. Tony Lourey, Chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Housing Finance Committee is the chief author of a bill that invests $200 million which will help reform and transform how we pay for care at nursing home facilities.

It’s an attempt to change the current patchwork of uneven funding that nursing facilities say isn’t enough, and also doesn’t allow them to recruit and retain quality nursing providers. Industry experts also have their eyes on Gov. Dayton’s supplemental budget, hoping the Governor also directs $200 million of the state’s $1.9 billion budget surplus to help struggling facilities.

Three main goals helped center discussions on what the bill would try to accomplish. Those goals were to incentivize quality care, to maintain and increase patient dignity and to increase worker quality of life.

This bill would offer facilities for a system that is more cost-based and establishes a framework for sustainable, predicable reimbursements for nursing homes.

The bill also prioritizes quality care by incentivizing quality and rewarding facilities that make improvements. Finally, the bill would provide livable wages for caregivers and help create career pathways to ensure competent, and experienced employees.

Nursing home reimbursement rates are so low in some parts of the state, facilities say it’s hard to recruit quality care givers. This bill will go a long way toward offering more incentives like health care coverage, to retain quality workers.

This reform comes at a critical time as nursing homes and long-term care facilities are growing more crowded; we will need more qualified people to enter this important field.

A recent Pioneer Press article cites that 21 nursing homes in rural Minnesota counties have closed in the past decade according to state records. Those closures have brought the state’s nursing home count down to 370 and driven a steep decline in beds even as a wave of retirees approaches — a drop caused by a shift toward assisted living and in-home care. This legislation has never been more urgent, and more critical for rural nursing home facilities.

If you have questions regarding these or other matters, please contact my office at 651-296-9248.