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Letter: The breaking point isn’t coming – it’s already here

Riewer, president and CEO of Eventide, writes, "Right now, long-term care facilities must wait up to 20 months before receiving reimbursement from the state of Minnesota for the actual cost of providing services to residents. This profound delay in repayment greatly affects our ability to raise caregiver wages to keep our valuable caregivers from leaving us to work someplace else for more money."

Jon Riewer.jpg
Jon Riewer / Special to The Forum
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In my 30-year career in long-term care, I have never seen a crisis that is challenging our mission to serve the elderly like what we’re facing now. Minnesota’s network of nursing homes, assisted living and senior care services is facing collapse due to a worsening shortage of caregivers.

Today, many long-term providers are experiencing 60-65% turnover rates – a staggering reality. Nationally, older adult settings are understaffed in direct care, culinary, housekeeping and maintenance. Across Minnesota, there are more than 23,000 job vacancies in long-term care. Even more unsettling, many senior care providers with available rooms are turning away Minnesota families because they don’t have the necessary staff.

Certainly, the toll of the pandemic has magnified staffing shortages, but the problem goes far deeper than that. Our current challenge is the result of a chronically undervalued and underpaid workforce that is dependent on the way the state of Minnesota funds senior care.

I appreciate the recent actions of Gov. Walz and legislative leaders to provide emergency staffing support and financial incentives for caregivers. These are important steps, but we must continue to work toward permanent solutions.

Right now, long-term care facilities must wait up to 20 months before receiving reimbursement from the state of Minnesota for the actual cost of providing services to residents. This profound delay in repayment greatly affects our ability to raise caregiver wages to keep our valuable caregivers from leaving us to work someplace else for more money.

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Eventide is working hard to recruit new staff by offering bonuses and wage increases to sustain the quality of our care and services, not knowing whether the state will fully reimburse us for these costs until 2023. Without greater state support, these temporary steps are unsustainable at best and financially crippling at worst.

Meanwhile, employers in other sectors are managing the labor shortages by increasing prices to cover wage increases. Those of us providing long-term care can’t do that. The state of Minnesota sets our rates, not the marketplace.

For many years, long-term care providers have worked within thin margins and limited resources. We warned state leaders that we needed to invest and expand our workforce development efforts to meet the needs of our growing senior population. By next year, one million Minnesotans will be 65 or older, but our ability to support them is rapidly eroding.

Minnesota government has a responsibility to partner with long-term care providers to fully fund and reform our state’s senior care system, so that caregivers are fairly compensated for the valuable skills they bring to the important work of caring for seniors.

Without permanent and lasting solutions, even our most dedicated caregivers will burn out and leave the profession. The ultimate price will be paid by the very people who can’t afford to lose our skills and support – our senior loved ones.

Jon Riewer is the president and CEO of Eventide Senior Living Communities.

This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

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