Editorial: State can encourage in-home senior care

Posted in the Minneapolis Star TribuneStart transforming nursing homes into service centers. The day is coming when advanced aging will no longer mean leaving home for most Minnesotans. For many, it will lead to the installation of electronic sensors in their homes. High-tech monitors will alert family members or care supervisors when a refrigerator isn’t opened often enough, a bathroom is visited too often, medicine is not consumed or movement is not detected.Some of what Minnesotans now call nursing homes will be older adult service centers’ that monitor those readouts, offer drop-in care and clinics, host classes and events, and dispatch providers of in-home services. Others will be ‘life care communities’ that offer a variety of residential options for the chronically ill and disabled.The Legislature should seek to hasten the arrival of that future. When it does, Minnesota’s frail elderly will have more of the independence they want, and their care will be less burdensome to taxpayers. State and federal taxpayers foot the bill for about two-thirds of Minnesota nursing home residents; those tabs are running in the range of $50,000 per year.The transformation of elder care would be spurred by enactment this session of a bill sponsored by state Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, offering income tax credits for installation of electronic ‘senior sensors.’ Lawmakers should also explore ways to encourage the purchase of long-term care insurance and to allow a Medicaid-eligible senior to use those funds to pay a friend or relative to provide home care.But until the good day comes when few frail seniors need to leave home for care, the Legislature must also attend to the condition of Minnesota nursing homes. They are hurting: Minnesota has lost 10 percent of its nursing facilities to financial failure since 2000, and one of every four remaining is considered by industry associations at risk of closure.State underfunding and hyper-regulation are major reasons why. Nursing homes can’t raise rates without state approval. No approval came for 2004-05, and the 2006-07 increase didn’t keep pace with inflation.Industry representatives are asking the Legislature for catch-up funding for fiscal 2008 and keep-up money for 2009, totaling $64 million. That’s more than three times the increase Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s budget allots for long-term care, and likely more than the DFL-controlled Legislature can muster. But legislators will be derelict in their duty if they turn their backs completely on the facilities’ pleas. What’s more, they’ll do a disservice to tomorrow’s seniors if they spurn the industry’s request for $10 million a year to help underwrite the projects that will turn nursing homes into older adult service centers.A recent poll of Minnesota baby boomers by Ecumen, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of eldercare, found that they have no desire to end their days in nursing homes. Forward-looking state investments are needed now to make sure they won’t have to.