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Changes in elder care legislation gain momentum, could cost $30 million

ST. PAUL — Families would be able to raise complaints without retaliation and monitor the care of their loved ones with cameras if lawmakers can pass much-discussed changes meant to improve the safety of Minnesota seniors. 

Elder advocates, industry representatives and state officials came together last weekend and finally agreed on language for a set of reforms, said Kristine Sundberg, president of Elder Voice Family Advocates. 

Sundberg became an advocate after her father died in a Sauk Rapids care facility. 

"I'm cautiously optimistic," she said Wednesday. "We're hoping all of the hard work doesn't get gutted because there's no money or not enough money."

The agreed-upon reforms will probably cost the state about $30 million a year, said Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary's Point, chair of the Family Care and Aging Committee. 

"It's a huge priority for the Senate," Housley said. Officials are looking for funding for it now.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and from both chambers still have to agree on the language and the funding.

Negotiations to reach the agreement lasted nearly 500 hours over two years, she said. 

The changes would establish licensing for assisted-living facilities, allow for cameras and electronic monitors in patient rooms, and protect against retaliation after complaints are filed. Minnesota is the only state that doesn't license assisted-living centers.

The Republican-controlled Senate and the DFL-controlled House have been at odds when negotiating budget provisions the past few weeks of the session. They still have different versions of the elder care bill.

The House passed a bill last week that clarifies the rights of long-term care residents prohibits deceptive marketing, allows cameras in nursing homes and lays out licensing for assisted living. 

Rep. Dan Wolgamott, D-St. Cloud, said he was proud to vote for it. "I've heard some really heart-wrenching stories from constituents who've had that experience (of abuse and neglect in care facilities)," Wolgamott said. The new bill increases transparency and accountability of care providers. 

Sundberg called the House version "a very strong bill," but it's not the language agreed upon last weekend by the broader coalition. She and Housley expect the compromise language to be added to the House and Senate versions of the bill. 

"There is 100 percent agreement on it," Housley said. "It's truly been an honor doing this work, protecting our most vulnerable."

But politics are still in play, and the finances aren't pinned down, Sundberg said. Gov. Tim Walz called for $30 million for elder care in his budget, and that's not even enough, she said. 

The funding will drive the state's ability to implement new assisted living licensing and improve its oversight, Sundberg said. "We'll be coming back next year for sure," Sundberg said. "This is getting us a big step forward."

Nora G. Hertel, Saint Cloud Times Published 6:26 p.m. CT May 15, 2019


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