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Patti Cullen and Gayle Kvenvold, Published April 28 2012

Letter: Senior care a priority

Stadium proposals may be making headlines in St. Paul, but other priorities ought to dominate candidates’ and lawmakers’ attention as they wrap up this session and shift into election season. Supporting seniors and their caregivers should remain a top priority after the session, especially while campaigning this summer and fall.

Over the next 10 years, the number of Minnesota seniors will grow by more than 40 percent. By 2020, seniors will outnumber schoolchildren in our state, and at the age of 65, the average person has an 80 percent chance of needing some type of senior care in their future. Traditionally, family members have taken on the bulk of caring for aging family and friends. However, these days families are increasingly geographically dispersed and the traditional caregiver (an adult son or daughter) is much less likely to be living near his or her aging parents, making it difficult to provide them with an adequate level of care.

These changing dynamics elevate the value and necessity of paid caregivers. The first step toward ensuring quality care for all seniors is to invest in those who care for them. It is why we should all be concerned that the majority of caregivers in Minnesota have not had a wage increase in four years due to state-imposed freezes.

We also know that a strong senior care system means having a spectrum of care options. Not so long ago, seniors had only one choice when they could no longer live safely at home – a nursing home. Today, seniors can take advantage of home care and assisted living options that preserve independence and save the state money; the state can support three seniors in assisted living or in the community for the same cost of supporting one senior in a nursing home.

And yet the Elderly Waiver program – the only state program that pays for low-income seniors to receive home care or assisted living – has seen devastating cuts in recent years.

We do not expect our political leaders to manufacture miracles, but some action must be taken, and it must be taken now. Below are three ideas for lawmakers and candidates to consider:

E Invest in caregivers: The state dictates payment rates that control the wages for a majority of senior caregivers. We must invest in wages that attract and retain the very best caregivers.

E Invest in a range of options for quality senior care: It is imperative Minnesota funds programs that make it possible for seniors to access care in the place that’s right for them.

E Create financial stability for seniors and families: Lawmakers should help all Minnesotans prepare for their own care needs, including allowing seniors to convert life insurance policies to pay for long-term care, providing a greater ability to fund their own care needs.

Issues of aging matter to us all. The end of the legislative session will signal the true start of election season – it is imperative that candidates and lawmakers address the pressing issues that affect Minnesota seniors, families and caregivers.

Cullen is president/CEO, Care Providers of Minnesota. Kvenvold is president/CEO, Aging Services of Minnesota.