A landmark effort passed through the Capitol this month that aims to bring about change in the assisted living communities.
Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Marys Point, led the charge to bring about consumer protections for residents of assisted living facilities. The bill passed the House and Senate on May 19 and was signed into law by the governor on Wednesday, May 22.
“It’s just gratifying,” said Sandra Trudeau, the chair of the Tri-County Senior Caucus, which includes the Forest Lake area. “I just see it as a real plus for all senior citizens in Minnesota.”
Prior to the bill being signed into law, Minnesota was the only state that did not require assisted facilities to be licensed. The elder care reforms will require those facilities to be licensed at one of two levels, depending on if that facility offers Alzheimer’s or dementia care. The bill also forbids deceptive marketing regarding the level of care facilities offer.
“Nobody really focused on this issue. After hearing of neglect and abuse, that became my mission and passion for the last two and a half years,” Housley said, referring to investigations from Minnesota media that shed light on alleged mistreatment and abuse of residents in assisted living facilities across the state.
One of the changes signed into law is legal protection for those placing hidden cameras in their loved one’s room if they suspect abuse or mistreatment. They now have up to 14 days before they are required to notify the facility. Housley said cases of the alleged abuse were often going uninvestigated because of a lack of oversight at the Office of Health Facility Complaints.
“That’s where this all started. There were over 20,000 complaints still sitting on the desks that were going uninvestigated, and they got so overwhelmed. They were still using a paper-based system, folders just stacked up on their desks that they just threw them away, so these people who were hurting seniors were getting away with [it].” Housley said. That led to a house cleaning at the Minnesota Department of Health in 2017, including the resignation of Commissioner Ed Ehlinger. A $30 million budget over the biennium will help provide a new electronic system that is faster and more effective at handling complaints, Housley said . In addition to the new system, hiring will begin in July for more staff.
“That will be a huge resource for our seniors,” Housley said.
Kristine Sundberg, the president of Elder Voice Family Advocates, a group that led the charge for the reforms, said the group is “delighted” the bill was signed into law.
“We were devastated last year when it got caught up in the political gamesmanship and did not pass. On one hand, we lost a whole year where we could’ve been starting to protect elders and vulnerable adults, but on the other hand I would say we’ve got a stronger bill this year,” Sundberg said. “We’re very thankful.”
For Housley, the bill is personal. Her mom, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, died in February, and finding appropriate facilities to handle her mom’s needs was difficult.
“It was the genesis behind me doing this work. When I got elected in 2016, I wanted to make sure we had an aging and long-term committee, and going through that whole process with my mom, home to assisted living and finally nursing home, my mom was lucky to have me to advocate for her, but I saw so many seniors who didn’t have anyone. It broke my heart, because who is fighting for them?” Housley said.
For Housley, it was over 500 hours of bipartisan work to get the bill through the Legislature.
“That was really the icing on the cake. This wasn’t something we had to push through and convince people to vote for or trade things so they wouldn’t put any amendments. I had Democrats asking if they could clone the bill so they could be on it. It was a real bipartisan effort, which is how government is supposed to function,” Housley said.
Ebenezer and Fairview Senior Services, which includes Forest Lake area major facilities Meadows on Fairview and Cherrywood Pointe, do not anticipate any major changes due to the legislation.
Ebenezer Fairview Senior Services President Jon Lundberg said, “This law provides greater transparency for residents and their families across Minnesota, just as we do at Cherrywood Pointe. It puts safety first.”
Though the bill addresses many current and critical needs, Sundberg said Elder Voice Family Advocates plans to keep pushing for more changes. The group plans to work with facilities to help address staffing challenges and requirements, and it also would like to see some light regulation for independent living.
“There’s more work to be done, but this is a huge step forward,” Sundberg said. “We’re just catching our breath right now, so I’m going to sit down and take a look at what we’ve got left on the table and what we want to take up for the next coming year or two.”