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Increase in Nursing Home Funding Will Go to Staff Wages and Benefits at West Wind Village

Morris Sun Tribune

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Screen shot: Morris Sun Tribune

By Kim Ukura

A funding increase for nursing homes and long-term care facilities approved during the last Legislative session will mean an increase in wages and benefits for workers at West Wind Village.

On Monday, administrators at the facility met with Rep. Jeff Backer (R-Browns Valley) and Rep. Matt Dean (R-Dellwood), to talk about what the funding increase will mean in the community.

On Monday, West Wind Village also welcomed new administrator Paula Viker, who comes to the facility after 14 years as program director for the health management/bachelor of applied health programs at the University of Minnesota, Crookston. Viker’s first day of work in Morris was Monday.

One of the wins for greater Minnesota during the last legislative session came in the health care bill, which added $138 million to nursing home aid, allowing the facilities to raise wages and keep nurses and other staff that more and more have used rural nursing homes as training grounds before moving on to better-paying jobs.

The same legislation would require all nursing homes to receive the same state aid level as those in the Twin Cities. Current law provides less money for rural homes.

Locally, that legislative change will bring approximately $990,000 of additional funding to West Wind Village every year, about a 23 percent increase in total state assistance.

Backer said increasing funding for nursing homes was the number one priority for a group of 10 freshmen House members from rural Minnesota. As a group, they brought that focus to the Republican caucus and helped it become a priority for the House Republicans.

“We’re hearing from folks about the importance of nursing homes in small towns, both for keeping people in the community and as economic drivers in a community,” added Dean, chair of the Health and Human Services Finance committee. “We heard that loud and clear.”

About 60 to 70 percent of the funding increase will go directly to staff members in the form of raises and a group health insurance plan, said Scott Jackson, St. Francis Health Services vice president of senior services.

Increasing wages and benefits may also help address an ongoing challenge for long-term care facilities — finding nurses and other staff members. Competition for wages and benefits comes from everywhere, and West Wind Village currently has about 14 full time equivalent positions open on their staff, said Thorne.

Wages at long-term care facilities are typically 20 percent lower than at hospitals, added Scot Allen, St. Francis Health Services regional director.

Additionally, current nurses are overworked and morale is low, making nursing look like an undesirable profession for young people, Viker said.

“Making their lives betters will make nursing look better to a younger generation,” Viker noted.

“When employees are happier, they provide better care,” added Thorne.

During their visit to Stevens County, Backer and Dean also met with John Rau and Jason Breuer of Stevens Community Medical Center to tour the facility’s new addition and discuss a bill passed this year designed to help critical access hospitals like SCMC by increasing their critical access hospital payments. There are six critical access hospitals in House District 12A.