By Danielle Killey
Maple Lawn Nursing Home administrator Arlan Swanson said his organization is the biggest employer in Fulda, but he says his staff is struggling because he cannot give them raises after years of cuts and freezes in state funding.
“I’m really proud of my staff,” Swanson said Thursday. “But for the last four years when it comes to the annual reviews, I’ve had very little to offer for my thanks.
“You must count in 2013,” he told the seniors, caregivers and families gathered at the Minnesota Capitol.
Chanting “five and five,” rally attendees urged a 5 percent increase in state funding each of the next two years for caregivers and nursing homes.
“We cannot fail our seniors,” said President and CEO Jon Riewer of Moorhead’s Eventide Senior Living Communities. “A 5 percent increase in each year of the biennium is needed to close the long-term care funding gap and start addressing the caregiving crisis in our state.”
Advocates say they need more money from the state to stop nursing homes from closing and keep good employees. Rural nursing homes especially are at risk, they said.
Many speakers said caregivers are leaving to work other jobs because they need to make more money.
“When we’re talking about ‘five and five,’ we are talking about food on people’s tables,” said Rep. Joe Schomacker, R-Luverne. “This is not a partisan issue, it’s an issue of priorities.”
Budget proposals include billions in new money for the state, so more funding should be directed to senior programs and pay increases for caregivers, Riewer said.
Democratic leaders’ spending targets cut about $150 million from health and human services budgets in the next two years. The House plan does include a 3 percent one-time increase and the Senate includes 2 percent.
Legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton still must finalize budget targets, and those at the rally said they hope their funding will go up then.
“We’ve reached a critical point in our legislative session,” Riewer said.
Seniors are a growing part of the population, advocates said, and funding needs to recognize that.
“The demographics of our state are changing,” AARP State Director Michele Kimball said. “Our population is aging.”