Lawmakers Want to Boost Nursing Home Funding

Posted at: 02/26/2013 9:39 PM
Updated at: 02/26/2013 10:46 PM
By: John Doetkott

(ABC 6 News) -- There's a new push by lawmakers to increase state funding for nursing homes saying failing to do so means facilities may close.

With more and more baby boomers entering retirement, nursing homes are preparing for a surge in residents.

And on Tuesday, a bipartisan group of Minnesota lawmakers introduced legislation to make sure they have the money necessary to deal with the influx.

The bill would increase state funding for nursing homes by five percent over the next two years.

Because of budget restrictions, employees at St. John's Lutheran Home in Albert Lea have been on a pay freeze since 2008.

But they're still doing better than some.

“There have been many homes in Minnesota that have been closed,” said Diane Wichmann, director of fund development at St. John's. “And people are demanding more in health care."

It's that demand that lead lawmakers to push for the funding increase.

The state gave over $380 million to nursing homes last year, but because of how the money is paid out, even that funding was uncertain.

“You don't know what your state reimbursement is going to be if they tell you at a certain time of the year,” said Shanna Eckberg, administrator at Throne Crest Retirement Community in Albert Lea. “You might just have to ‘guesstimate’ what you're going to get on average per day, per resident."

Officials said that such issues can hamper quality of care and cause problems with improvement projects and staffing.

“Hiring employees is sometimes difficult for nursing homes because paying them is challenging sometimes,” Eckberg said.

Experts said that for many small towns, local nursing homes are the area's biggest employers, meaning increased funding would benefit not only nursing home residents, but local economies as well.

Still, officials said that whether or not the legislation passes, funding increases will be necessary in the not so distant future.

“We're going to see our aging population go through the roof over the next 20 to 30 years,” Eckberg said. “So I definitely think this would help us."

Many nursing homes operate as part of a larger network, meaning they have support is budgets get too tight.

But for independent nursing homes, the proposed funding increases could mean the difference between providing care and closing the doors for good.