Weather Forecast


Minn. elder care legislation still in the works

Minnesota state Rep. Jennifer Schultz of Duluth speaks during a Wednesday, April 11, House committee meeting during which protecting the elderly from abuse was discussed. Don Davis / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL—Kris Sundberg's story is tough to hear.

Her father was in an assisted living center. Newspapers piled up outside his door and he did not go to the dining room for a week. Finally, a neighbor urged staff to check on him. Once they did, they found he was dead, apparently for seven days. It was so bad, Sundberg said, that a hazardous materials team had to clean the room before the family could remove belongings.

Minnesota does not regulate assisted living facilities such as where her father lived.

Since well before the Minnesota Legislature convened on Feb. 21, stories like Sundberg's have been told to lawmakers looking into elder abuse. But while pretty much all legislators say something should be done about it, finding a solution has been elusive.

Some lawmakers, mostly Democrats, want new laws now. Others, usually Republicans, want to make some changes now, but also allow working groups to gather information during the next few months and provide the Legislature with recommendations next January.

Rep. Debra Kiel, R-Crookston, said she and others planned to work this weekend to revise legislation to find something that can pass and help the elderly.

The issue arose last year when the Star Tribune of Minneapolis printed a series of stories reporting that many seniors were being ignored or injured in nursing homes. Some were abused mentally or physically, and things were stolen from others.

The state reports that it received 24,000 nursing home and related complaints in 2017, up from 4,000 in 2010. A fraction of the reports were investigated, with thousands pilling up untouched. State officials say they are catching up.

Kiel's legislation was in front of a House health and human services committee for a couple of hours Wednesday, April 11, with debate ending around midnight. No action was taken, and her measure could be folded into a bigger health-related bill.

Kiel got an earful, however.

"We need to have a sense of urgency about this," Rep. Diane Loeffler, D-Minneapolis, told Kiel.

Loeffler said Kiel's legislation concentrates too much on studying the problem and not enough on fixing it. "This bill is just embarrassing."

Other Democrats chimed in.

By not acting now, Rep. Jennifer Schultz, D-Duluth, said, "we are doing harm." She added, "Any delay is our responsibility."

Kiel defended her bill. She said, for example, that retaliation by nursing facilities on a resident filing a complaint is handled in the legislation. Patients and residents would be allowed to report issues without facing "restraint, interference, coercion, discrimination, reprisal or threat of discharge," said Kiel.

Many of the problems that have surfaced in recent months could be handled under existing law, she added.

"If we are not very careful with what we do ... we are going to lose the facilities," Kiel said.

She told of an incident in her area of the state in which dentures of a nursing home resident disappeared. Under the law, the facility had to report it within two hours. The dentures showed up the next day, but when the nursing home called to cancel the report, state officials said it had to remain on the books.

Kiel said many of the 24,000 complaints probably fall into that category, but she has yet to get details from the Health Department. "There is a lot of reporting done here that isn't the tragic stories."

Home health care clients also would be given more rights and protections under the Kiel legislation. One complaint aired in recent months has been that people who report alleged violations often are never told of an investigation outcome. The Kiel bill would provide some information to the person who reported the issue.

A proposal by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton would give the state more authority than proposed in bills by either the Republican-controlled House or Senate.

Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary's Point, has a bill that, among other things, is meant to streamline abuse reporting. That law provides family members the right to install cameras so they can see how their loved one is being treated by facility workers.

Nursing home leaders have said that too many new regulations could cripple their facilities, especially in greater Minnesota where profit margins are slim. More than 80 nursing homes have closed since 2000.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.