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Letter: State should continue funding for long-term care facilities

Minnesota nursing and residential care facilities alone help drive the local economy by contributing more than $2.6 billion annually to the economy and supporting nearly 120,000 Minnesota jobs. Many facilities are the leading employer in their communities. However, these businesses are poorly funded by the state and many are struggling to survive. Given current funding levels, Minnesota's senior care centers are at risk of closing their doors. This loss would be a crucial blow to the health care we provide to our senior population. In addition, it would greatly impact thousands of jobs throughout the state.

In just three short years, baby boomers will begin turning 65. Minnesota's senior care and older adult service providers are not prepared or adequately funded to handle this growth. Our seniors deserve the best possible care, period. However, when the government controls the amount of money that these facilities can pay out in wages and when that amount does not keep up with inflation, how can these facilities compete with local employers who are? In my second year of employment, I earn under $10.00 per hour. The average wage in Minnesota is $13.00 to $15.00 per hour. Our market (cost of living) increase was 1.48 percent, yet we know the cost of living will increase much more than that. If gas would only increase by that percentage, we could survive the other increases.

Personally, I find it very disheartening to know that I could be paid more per hour and receive better benefits to manufacture snowmobile parts in my hometown than the wages and benefits I receive as a hands-on care provider for the residents in the nursing center where I work. I love my job. I love knowing I provide a needed service to people who are dependant on others to meet their daily needs. I thought that loving my job was enough, but after a year of employment, two personal loans from my children to cover taxes and insurance, I have to face the fact that my job doesn't provide me with enough income to remain at a job I love. With the advent of an unstable economy, rising prices for gas, food, taxes, etc., I find myself asking how can this be. The answer lies within the limits set by the legislature. This summer I might pay more for gas to get to work than I could afford to stay employed. I'm over 50, have a mortgage, drive an older car, pay my taxes and insurances, and find it difficult to survive on what my wages are. I am told that the benefit of insurance is an added bonus of my job, but in reality the cost of that insurance keeps me from being able to use it.

Surveys conducted showed that six out of ten responding taxpayers said they could support increased funding in this area. It is sad to think that today's employees are first attracted by the wage. If you are an institution regulated by how much you can pay in wages, and your wages are less than other businesses in your community, how do you attract the best possible candidates for employment? Is it enough with today's economy to just love your job? Will it be enough for the care that our seniors want and need as they begin their journey into our facilities? I seek your help in asking our Legislators to take a closer look, from a personal point of view, at the funding situation. The future is closer than some of us may think. Come walk in my shoes for a day and see how rewarding the field of health care is and why it is so vital to our communities. Please contact your Legislators and our Governor today. Ask them to support funding for Long Term Care facilities. Help make wages for those caring for our residents in nursing centers livable wages. -- Joann Splonskowski, Rochert