As nurses and lifelong leaders in long-term care, hearing legislators say they won’t forget our seniors, this hearing gives us cause for hope. But making sure elderly loved ones can access care when they need it takes more than words. We need financial support now.
For years, lawmakers promised to take care of the elderly, but failed to act when it mattered most. As the budget discussions begin in this session, it is time to ensure the quality of care for our seniors. With historical budget surpluses, the nation’s leaders must prioritize funding for long-term care in order to alleviate a devastating workforce crisis that they have allowed to drag on for far too long.
Seniors in Minnesota and their families are increasingly facing a common struggle: accessing senior care options during an acute shortage of caregivers. Statewide, nearly 20,000 long-term caregiver positions remain open. Meanwhile, our senior population continues to grow with fewer options for care. In October of 2022 alone, Minnesota saw 11,000 admission rejections. In such cases, seniors are forced into long waiting lists or to seek care in communities far from their support systems.
Elderly care is a vital component of our healthcare system. The shortage of senior care providers has ripple effects throughout the health care system. Seniors ready to be discharged after hospital stays are stuck waiting for an opening in long-term care, causing Minnesotans to wait longer for elective surgeries or struggle to find a hospital that will accept new admissions. This crisis is not just a problem in selected societies. This happens in every corner of the state. And it affects every Minnesota who needs care.
Workforce shortages may be common these days, but our unique reason is insufficient funding from the Minnesota legislature and Governor Tim Walz. Fifty-five percent of nursing home residents rely on Medicaid to pay for their care, and low-income seniors use Medicaid dollars to help with living. For years, government funding failed to cover the cost of care for both services. The reason behind this shortage is the lack of commitment of our nation’s leaders who have ignored this crisis for far too long. Our seniors should not be invisible. They have taken care of us and paid their taxes over the years. And when they needed us most, we ignored this vulnerable population.
Senior caregivers are exhausting their options as they try to retain and attract caregivers. Our current funding levels limit the average starting wage for a senior care worker to less than $17 an hour, which is not nearly enough for the grueling and important work we ask of them. Many senior caregivers have increased wages over the past two years without the state paying an extra bonus. They are burning reserves and using lines of credit to stay afloat.
Senior caregivers have no options to pay for recent and future pay increases. To continue carrying this burden would be unsustainable and push them over the edge. While they do their best to keep their doors open, the state has seen an alarming amount of lockdowns over the past few years. The current system limits care settings to financial instability, which further threatens access to elderly care.
Legislative inaction cannot be an option in this session
We cannot risk the well-being of the elderly and limit their healthcare choices. Minnesota has more than one million seniors. One in four Minnesotans will be 65 or older by 2030, and someone age 65 has nearly a 70% chance of needing long-term care services sometime in the coming years. At the same time, caregivers continue to find other healthcare jobs with better pay and less stress. The growing gap between elderly adults seeking care and the number of long-term caregivers must be closed.
In this hearing, we heard lawmakers pledge not to leave the state’s one million seniors behind. In the House and Senate hearings, support for long-term care funding was nearly unanimous, but the words wouldn’t go very far. We need our elected leaders to commit to caring for our seniors, just as Sens. John Hoffman (DFL-Champlin), Jim Appeler (R-Anoka) and Representative Heather Edelson (DFL-Edina) have done. We’ve seen the legislature take swift action on policy areas that don’t face crisis-level conflicts, but when it comes to Minnesota senior care, lawmakers seem to lack the same sense of urgency. We know that the state can address the same workforce problems that limit access to elderly care. It’s just a matter of will.
With budget discussions taking place soon, now is the time for rubber to meet the road. We urge lawmakers to prioritize long-term care funding in the budget. We hope that lawmakers will apply the same level of resolve they have shown so far in this session to address the shortage of senior caregivers. The well-being of Minnesota seniors depends on state leaders delivering on their commitments this legislative session.
Barbara Click and Amanda Johnson serve as Chairs of the Board of Directors of LeadingAge of Minnesota and Care Providers of Minnesota, respectively.