ST. PAUL - Mitch Jasper worries about the fate of his small town and others like it, if state lawmakers cut spending to nursing homes and other care facilities.
Nursing homes often are the largest employer in a small town, said Jasper, mayor of Jackson in southwestern Minnesota. He said rural towns cannot afford to see their nursing homes suffer financially or, in some cases, face closure.
"The community stability of rural Minnesota depends upon the availability of stable, local jobs and the ability for seniors to find access to the care they need locally," Jasper said.
Elderly residents and nursing home officials filled the Minnesota Capitol rotunda Tuesday to advocate for state aid for long-term care facilities. Lawmakers are considering funding cuts to long-term care programs as they try to solve a $4.6 billion deficit. That is after federal stimulus funds soften the blow of a projected $6.4 billion shortfall.
The Capitol event came one day after the Minnesota House and Senate passed major health and human services spending packages, delaying state aid increases that nursing homes planned to receive during the next two-year budget period, beginning July.
The Senate also proposes to cut some nursing homes' reimbursement rates, while the House would avoid a reimbursement cut for nursing homes.
Other long-term care facilities, such as those treating people with developmental disabilities, would see reductions in their state reimbursements.
A roughly nine-hour House debate concluded late Monday with the bill passing 85-49, following the Senate's 40-23 passage of its version.
Delayed - or decreased - state funding may make it impossible for some nursing homes to give their employees pay increases or even health insurance, said Austin Blilie, the administrator at Frazee Care Center in northwestern Minnesota.
That makes it difficult to retain health care workers, who may be forced to leave for more lucrative job offers elsewhere, added Katie Lundmark, who oversees Lake Park's Sunnyside Care Center.
Nursing homes report losing around $25 a day per resident who is enrolled in government health programs.
The planned increases in nursing home reimbursements were supposed to help close that gap, but that will not happen if the payment change is delayed.