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Report shines light on elder neglect as Minnesota lawmakers seek reform

Elder Voice Family Advocates president Kristine Sundberg, right, details a new report on elder neglect during a news conference April 9, 2019, at the Minnesota Capitol. Looking on is state Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Marys Point, who authored a bill this session for stronger protections for assisted living residents. Michael Brun / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Cases of elder abuse and neglect in Minnesota are disturbing, widespread and mostly preventable, according to a new report detailed Tuesday, April 9, at the Capitol by advocacy groups pushing for stronger protections for older and vulnerable adults.

Elder Voice Family Advocates reviewed a sample of 128 cases of neglect at assisted living and senior housing facilities substantiated over the past five years by the state health department’s Office of Health Facility Complaints. The report highlights 41 cases of maltreatment, including 28 deaths in which neglect was a direct or contributing factor.

Elder Voice identified recurring themes in the cases, including:

  • Inadequate supervision for residents and staff

  • Low staffing levels

  • Communication breakdowns within care teams

“Our legislators have sole power to put Minnesota on the right path to end this inhumane and deadly neglect,” Elder Voice president Kristine Sundberg said in a news release.

The nonprofit organization of family members and residents who have experienced senior neglect was joined by AARP Minnesota and Legal Aid in calling for reforms to protect seniors and funding to establish a statewide assisted living licensing program.

Minnesota is the only state that does not license assisted living facilities, and it trails most of the country in resident protections from arbitrary discharge and retaliation, according to Elder Voice.

“Minnesota prides itself on being a leader in so many areas, but we are an outlier,” state Sen. Scott Dibble, D-Minneapolis, said Tuesday on the licensing issue. He is one of several legislators who authored bills this session to strengthen consumer protections for assisted living residents.

State Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Marys Point, who authored a bill that includes licensing requirements for assisted living facilities, said protecting Minnesotans from elder abuse is a nonpartisan issue.

“It’s about doing what’s right to protect the most vulnerable,” Housley said.

The Long-Term Care Imperative — a collaboration of Minnesota's two long-term care provider associations: LeadingAge Minnesota and Care Providers of Minnesota — has supported licensing of assisted living facilities, as well as measures to protect residents and address a shortage of caregivers in the state.

Projections have Minnesota’s 65-plus population surpassing the population of school-aged children by around 2020, according to the State Demographic Center. By 2030, more than one in five Minnesotans will be age 65 or older.

Elder abuse resources

  • For immediate help, call 911

  • Minnesota Adult Abuse Reporting Center at 844-880-1574

  • The Ombudsman for Long-Term Care at 651-431-2555

  • The Office of Health Facility Complaints at 651-201-4200

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