A state senator warned of a “major crisis” in Minnesota’s long-term care facilities in a letter sent last week to Gov. Tim Walz.
State Sen. Karin Housley (R-St. Mary’s Point), chair of the Senate Family Care and Aging Committee, applauded the governor for releasing a “five-point plan” earlier this month on addressing the crisis, but said she has seen “few indicators the trend is reversing.”
“I have tried to sound the alarm again and again about what I believe is a major crisis in long-term care settings,” Housley said in the letter. “For months, our state’s focus has been on making sure hospitals are ready to handle a surge in COVID-19 patients. As we prepared for a public health crisis similar to what New York was experiencing, it came at the expense of long-term care facilities, where the vast majority of our fatalities are occurring.”
As she notes in her letter, COVID-19 fatalities among nursing home residents have consistently accounted for 81 percent of the state’s total death count. As of Sunday, 709 of Minnesota’s 869 confirmed deaths were among residents of long-term care or assisted living facilities, the Department of Health reports.
A report from the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity indicates that Minnesota’s 81 percent figure is higher than any other state in the nation.
The governor said in his “five-point plan” released May 7 that he would expand testing for residents and workers, provide facilities with testing support and personal protective equipment (PPE), increase staffing levels, and “leverage partnerships.” He then deployed the National Guard May 14 to help nursing homes administer testing.
According to Housley’s letter, however, these steps have been insufficient in reversing the spread of the virus through long-term care facilities.
“Governor, I am pleading with you to take immediate, decisive action to reverse this deadly trend,” she said.
She asked the governor to consider some of her solutions to a number of ongoing problems in long-term care facilities, including a lack of “clear, consistent guidelines for testing, care, and transfers.” A recent Star Tribune report discovered that hospitals have discharged dozens of infected patients back into nursing homes, including homes with large outbreaks.
Housley said many facilities have “serious concerns” about a lack of PPE and other critical care supplies.
“They were told they will not receive N95 respirators from the state stockpile and are experiencing a critical shortage of gowns,” she said.
Other facilities are reluctant to test staff members because of insurance issues, since the “responsibility for lab payment is unclear in Minnesota.”
“We must implement clear and immediate guidelines for how long-term care facilities will be reimbursed for testing of staff, regardless of which lab is utilized,” Housley continued, noting that labs and the state health system are charging “courier fees to long-term care facilities for each test ordered, creating a cost barrier to testing.”
“While the Legislature is adjourned, I urge you to consider using the federal and state funds allocated for the COVID-19 response to long-term care facilities or calling the Legislature into special session to consider other action,” she concluded. “My colleagues and I stand ready to partner with you on solutions that require legislative approval.”
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of The Minnesota Sun and The Ohio Star. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “State Sen. Karin Housley” by Minnesota Senate Republicans.