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Minnesota home, community caregivers seek more state money

ST. PAUL — Minnesotans who provide the elderly and disabled care in their homes and other community-based settings are leaving the profession as wages cannot keep up, caregiver advocates say.

Sounding much like nursing home advocates did a year ago, they said on Tuesday that caregivers are taking jobs at fast-food restaurants, in other states and with other health-care providers. Some even are bolting for nursing homes, which received a significant funding boost from legislators and the governor earlier this year.

“It is really going to stabilize a lot of the nursing homes in greater Minnesota,” Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said about the new 2015 funding, adding that the $90 million he and Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, propose for home and community care givers can do the same for them.

“Home and community bases services were left behind last (legislative) session,” Eken said.

The type of services being discussed Tuesday included providers who care for patients in their homes or in other locations such as group homes. They basically are most types of services short of a nursing home-like setting.

“We need to first and foremost stop the hemorrhaging of the workforce we are losing,” Eken said.

Experts estimate that 3,500 of the 90,000 caregiver positions are open.

Eken said the bill he and Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, are sponsoring would give the providers a 5 percent increase, or $90 million. Three-fifths of the increase would go to worker pay raises, while the rest would be used to improve care.

With baby boomers aging to the point of needing more government-provided services, Eken said, “this is a priority. I really see this as being a challenge of our times.”

The increase he proposes, however, is not the end, he said. “I really do see this as a stopgap measure.”

Along with announcing the request for more funding, a group calling itself the 5 Percent Campaign said it has changed its name to Best Life Alliance.

One of the group’s leaders, Pam Gonnella, brought her 33-year-old daughter, Sarah, to the announcement as an example of a person who needs nearly full-time care.

The daughter suffered a severe brain injury from an illness when she was 5, and has needed constant care since. After living at home 25 years, Sarah Gonnella now lives in a Mendota Heights group home. But the group home’s situation is deteriorating, Pam Gonnella said, because of low wages.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.