Seniors and Workers for Quality
History * Initiatives * Action
Seniors and Workers for Quality began with a December 14, 1999 meeting at the Advocacy Center for Long-Term Care (now the ElderCare Rights Alliance). Represented were the Alzheimer’s Association, AARP, the Minnesota Nurses Association, the Ombudsman for Older Minnesotans, and the Union Coalition of Long-Term Care Workers. Each of these groups was already engaged in advocacy for improved staffing and quality in long-term care. The meeting was called to test the waters for collaboration on those mutual interests.
Commitment to advocate on the common ground led to an initial platform organized around four principles: adequate staffing, the importance of consistency and human relationships in caregiving, appropriate training for increasingly difficult work, and public accountability in long-term care oversight. The League of Women Voters, a well-known voice for health care and mental health issues, soon joined the Coalition. The Office of Ombudsman for Older Minnesotans would serve as a resource and ally.
2001-02 – Notable was a 2001 lobbying effort that joined the Seniors and Workers with the long-term care trade associations in a landmark bill to alleviate problems with temporary nursing pools. As soon as the ink was dry on the new law, the nursing pool operators challenged it in court. Coalition member organizations stood with the state through amicus curiae briefs in the lawsuit that was eventually settled. The 2002 budget deficits took their toll on the gains of 2001 as well as any hope of new initiatives. Left at the starting gate were the time-study of nursing hours and the study of costs for staff-intensive care, e.g. for people with dementia.
2003-04 – Seniors and Workers initiated a comprehensive bill that reflected its platform. The Quality Long-Term Care Accountability Act of 2003, provisions included rate increases, updated staffing standards, a health insurance pool for workers, training and scholarships, a registry for home care workers, and consumer rights in assisted living. In the deficit year, advocacy on workforce issues quickly became advocacy to maintain the status quo. By 2004, the patch of blue sky was successful advocacy to hold on to the endangered funds for nursing home workers’ scholarships and to restore, partially, the prior years’ deep cuts to home and community services. DHS Committee work to change the nursing home reimbursement system slid into a pattern of stalemates, but work on the new system remained the only forum to advocate on staffing.
2005-06 – Seniors and Workers brought its most comprehensive Coalition bill to the Capitol in 2005. The Quality Staffing, Quality Care bill united longstanding issues with a recommendation for transforming the long-term care system. Specifically, the bill offered strategic reduction of nursing facility buildings with recognition that a decentralized, consumer-driven long-term care system will require the growth and development of an expanded workforce for care. The connection between nursing home downsizing and community care workforce development is still far from established policy, but it remains a keystone of our work for the future. The 2005 session concluded with a 2.25% COLA for nursing home and community services for the elderly and disabled in each of the coming two years, with 75% earmarked for “hands on” employees, union sign-off and public posting of facilities’ plans for spending the new money. The nursing home workers’ scholarship program continued and was amplified by funds for direct care workers in community based services. Through 2006, the themes of staffing, consistency in caregiving, training and public accountability continued to unite our members. since its inception and are the key elements of legislation that we promote today.
2007-08 – Seniors and Workers called on 2007 lawmakers to “care for the caregiver” with a 5% COLA in each year of the biennium, with funding to hire direct care staff, recommendations for reimbursement methodology, affordable health care for workers, and system redesign. The results averaged 2%. In 2008, Chief Authors, Representative Fritz and Senator Marty, preserved momentum on these still critical but unfinished objectives, despite a budget shortfall.