A push for funding: care centers doing more with less

| April 24, 2015 | 0 Comments

Catholic nursing homes cite staff shortages, aging baby boomers as imminent challenges

Long-term care centers in Minnesota are among many entities vying for additional state funding, some of which could come from a $1 billion surplus. But as the legislative session continues until mid-May and with Gov. Mark Dayton prioritizing funds for early childhood education, it remains unclear what boost nursing homes might receive. Meanwhile, Catholic care centers in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis have said the lack of funding has them in crisis mode.

Dan Johnson

Dan Johnson

Barb Rode, president and chief executive officer of Twin Cities-based St. Therese, said new funding hasn’t been designated for long-term care. Over the last several years, facilities have been in a freeze, only receiving a small increase for staff salaries.

Rode said among the senior care organization’s biggest challenges is the gap of what it costs to care for someone and what that person pays, whether privately or through government assistance. According to Rode, St. Therese, which provides a variety of health services at its campuses in Brooklyn Park, New Hope, Shoreview and soon, Woodbury, loses up to $28,000 a day on Medicaid because of the rates set by the State of Minnesota.

“We feel as a Catholic facility, it’s our mission to provide all types of care, whether it be affordable or market-rate, to the Catholic community and anyone who comes through our doors,” Rode said, citing a “tsunami of baby boomers” who will be among those needing care in coming years.

Dan Johnson, president and CEO of Catholic Eldercare in northeast Minneapolis, said when the state’s funding programs for nursing homes were instituted, there was a common belief that most people wouldn’t live past age 65. He said that by 2031, it’s projected that the number of people 85 and older will grow by 61 percent.

“We’ve heard so much about it, people are almost a little numb to that. But it’s coming,” Johnson said, adding that any other business can determine its needs in order to stay healthy.

Because the state-set rates dictate what facilities can charge and what they can make, Rode said the issue trickles down to compensating staff members, which she understands to be the only component of nursing home funding in Gov. Dayton’s budget proposal.

Rode said state increases for wage subsidies would help, but she fears it would be a “Band-Aid.” However, if legislators work to increase wages appropriately, it would make a “tremendous difference” for nursing assistants who want to have a career in the field but can’t afford the time or money necessary to further their education, even with scholarships that St. Therese provides.

“Nursing assistants who have families find it difficult to make it on their own. And that’s why we see so many of them working two and three jobs, which is really unfortunate,” said Rode, who began her health care career as a nursing assistant. “I think a lot of times, we recruit and retain staff because of our mission. People . . . come to us because they want to do something good for someone else. It’s not always about wage. But something has to change with the salaries. When you can work at Burger King and make more than caring for [the] elderly, there’s something wrong in society.”

Michael Shasky, Catholic Eldercare’s chief financial officer,  agreed, highlighting the staff members who are called to do difficult work.

“We have such good people working here. We are so thankful for them,” he said. “But they can only stay if they can make it work for their family.”

Because care centers need to meet state and federal regulations of staff-to-resident ratios, less staff could mean not admitting as many residents, which is especially the case for rural facilities.

Johnson and Rode both said that compromising quality is not an option; they’d cut admissions rather than sacrifice care.

An essential part of that care is pastoral. With 75 percent of Catholic Eldercare residents being Catholic, the center has a large pastoral care department, which is important for residents and their families, Johnson said.

At St. Therese, Rode said they spend $300,000 a year in pastoral care, which isn’t reimbursed and which St. Therese’s board has said wouldn’t be cut from the budget.

“For the Catholic community and many, it’s important for the spiritual aspect, especially at end of life in the years when people go through so much,” she said, noting that St. Therese has started an endowment fund for pastoral care from priests, religious sisters and the laity. “They bring to the community a sense of security and safety and peace,” Rode continued, noting that about 70 percent of all St. Therese residents are Catholic. “It makes all the difference in the world. If you don’t have that, what are we providing for the people when they’re leaving this world for the next?”

What has helped defray costs, Rode said, are the contributions from volunteers and donors.

Johnson said he’s grateful for the generosity that allows Catholic Eldercare to do what’s central to its mission.

“Our desire is to see that everyone, regardless of economic status . . . receive excellent, high quality care in facilities that are wonderfully maintained and [that residents] are treated with dignity and kindness,” he said.

Rode said it’s time for legislators to consider the entire segment of services for the community and focus on seniors. She and other leaders from St. Therese meet with legislators every year, participate in state and national government meetings, and have campaigns for staff members to contact legislators.

Johnson said that ultimately, government, private resources and families will need to partner to find ways to improve long-term care funding. He encourages people to think ahead to potential care needs.

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Category: From Age to Age