Sue Knutson: Time for state to contribute more for senior care

When seniors lose access to care, it doesn’t just affect them and their families. It strains our entire local health care system. Our community relies on nursing homes and assisted living options.

Sue Knutson

Our community is oftentimes a destination for high quality, accessible health care. We have incredible providers, medical professionals and support staff. But our area is experiencing a dire workforce shortage in a critical field: aging services.

More than 10,000 Minnesotans — who have a right to care and housing — are denied access to the senior services they need each month, not because of their own eligibility but a lack of qualified staff to care for them. And to make matters worse, we are competing with communities across the state for those same caregivers.

The state of Minnesota is responsible for setting reimbursement rates for all who receive care, and 55% of nursing home residents require Medical Assistance to pay for their care. Similarly in assisted living, low-income seniors use Medicaid dollars through a state-regulated program for Elderly Waiver. In both cases, the rates provided by the state no longer cover the cost of care for aging services.

Unless the state increases funding for nursing home reimbursements and Elderly Waiver, senior care providers cannot recruit and retain the caregivers needed to provide Minnesota seniors with the care they need.

When seniors lose access to care, it doesn’t just affect them and their families. It strains our entire local health care system. Our community relies on nursing homes and assisted living options to support our aging community while keeping our hospitals open for other patients who need care.


Fortunately, with a healthy surplus state policymakers can address the crisis this year.

First and foremost, policymakers should secure the safety net for senior care across Minnesota. As stated earlier, the state sets the reimbursement rates, but state lawmakers are also responsible for setting the reimbursement process. As it stands, there is a 21-month delay in reimbursements to nursing homes. That means care providers are waiting nearly two years to be paid for the cost of the care provided. We would never expect schools to go two years without providing funding for teacher pay. Why does the state withhold funding for nursing home caregiver pay?

In addition to addressing the reimbursement delay, state leaders should fully fund the state’s Medicaid waivers that are intended to cover the costs of caring for seniors. Right now, there is a funding gap between what care costs and the rate the state pays.

These two steps alone will make great strides to facilitate a wage increase for hardworking caregivers, attracting new talent and retaining the current skilled caregivers.

Lastly, pair increased wages with innovative steps to grow interest in caregiving career paths and reduce barriers to future employment. Offer hiring incentives in areas of the state with significant shortages to attract caregivers to underserved regions. Work alongside higher education institutions to promote opportunities in which students gain academic credit working in long-term care. Give students more options for education, training, and testing to become nurses and nurses’ aides. Reduce obstacles that are slowing down or preventing qualified hires from starting work.

Simply put: Give the next generation the tools they need to enter the workforce in aging services and build the career of a lifetime.

Our community counts on our leaders at the Capitol to be a strong, independent voice for our priorities. This crisis is of utmost urgency this legislative session — it sits at the intersection of a frontline workforce in need of revitalization and the responsibility of the state to take care of our senior citizens.

Sue Knutson is mission leader and CEO of Samaritan Bethany in Rochester, which offers a full range of living and care options for seniors.

What To Read Next
Get Local