By Dean Urdahl
State Representative, District 18B
Minnesotans have a new tool to use when choosing a nursing home, the Nursing Home Report Card, published by the Minnesota Department of Health. Available online at www.health.state.mn.us/nhreportcard, you can search for nursing homes that fit your wants and needs. For example, you can receive a ranking of nursing homes based on their hours of direct care, staff turnover, state inspection results, or many other categories.
The rankings are helpful, but I caution against relying them exclusively when choosing a nursing care facility. Visiting a home and talking with the people there is and will always be the best way to judge whether or not it is right for you. The sincerity and depth of a person’s care for their patients cannot be properly expressed in a report card.
The report card also fails to address the real problems facing long-term care in Minnesota. As outlined in a newspaper article a few weeks ago, Minnesota’s elderly population is set to double over the next 25 years, but the number of available beds in long-term care facilities will continue to decrease, putting us on track for a major crisis unless we act today.
We can prevent that by providing better funding for nursing homes. A small Cost of Living Adjustment last year was helpful, but not nearly enough. Most nursing homes operate on a razor-thin profit margin, so the state must do a better job of funding or face the possibility of facilities closing or raising costs.
We are also short on qualified nurses. I support funding programs to train and keep more nurses in Minnesota. Failure to do so only puts more pressure on the system.
Promoting home-based care is another way we can ease the pressure on nursing homes. The government is encouraging programs such as PACE, which provides comprehensive in-home care for those who qualify. We also made it easier to transition back into the community by providing financing for transitional support. In some situations homecare is more expensive than entering a facility, so it needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. When used accordingly it can help ensure nursing home beds are going to those who need them most.
You can set yourself up for handling the cost of long-term care with long-term care insurance. If you are on the state’s Medical Assistance program, we have set up partnerships with private long-term insurance providers to make it easier to qualify for Medicaid assistance and protect you from excessive estate recoveries once your share of the cost is met.
Like many things in life, planning ahead is critical. The state needs to do a better job of funding and managing long-term care issues today so that we can handle changes in population over the next 25 years. Leaving senior citizens with an avoidable crisis would be unacceptable. It can be avoided if we plan and prepare today.