A frustrated worker at a computer

Labor advocates are pushing Minnesota’s Nursing Home Workforce Standards Board to implement a $25 minimum wage for all staff, among other measures aimed at supporting a struggling care workforce.

The state regulatory board has the authority to set mandated wage levels and training requirements for facilities, but not to approve additional funding. That disparity has been a cause for concern for long-term care leaders in the state since the board was created in May 2023.

Besides the $25 minimum wage, advocates also are pushing for new retirement plans for care workers, measures to increase staffing levels and greater freedoms to join unions, according to Nancy Poll, a labor advocate and former certified nursing assistant. 

“From my vantage point, chronically low wages are a significant hurdle in this staffing conundrum,” Poll wrote Monday in the Minnesota Reformer. “Adequate pay and benefits are crucial in attracting and retaining skilled health care professionals who genuinely care about the well-being of our residents.”

Poll referenced McKnight’s coverage of a 2022 report that found Minnesota had the highest prevalence of facility staffing shortages in the US at the time. 

The push from advocates coincides with the leadup to a workforce board public forum that will be held Feb. 29. The event will invite comments on wages, working conditions and the challenges faced by the long-term care sector generally and is open to current and former care workers as well as employers and employer organizations. 

Providers agree, ask for funding

State long-term care providers support boosting wages and benefits to attract and retain more care workers, according to Toby Pearson, president and CEO of the Care Providers of Minnesota, the state affiliate of the American Health Care Association. However, many share concerns that the workforce board would place a heavy burden on the sector without accompanying state funding.

“The state is the one in charge of setting our rates,” Pearson told McKnight’s Tuesday. “If the workforce standards board decides to go out on its own and say that there must be XYZ minimum paid — if the rates given to individual facilities don’t cover that, they’re left with an unfunded mandate.”

Pearson acknowledged that there are three care providers on the board and that the state legislature has passed some one-time funding relief for nursing homes in recent years. However, the Legislature has not been consistent in passing the ongoing funding relief that would allow nursing homes to fund permanent wage and benefits increases. 

“If [the wage increase] is passed without any additional funding, I think you’re going to see a lot of challenges to access,” Pearson warned. 

Care Providers of Minnesota advocates have partnered with LeadingAge Minnesota to create the Long-Term Care Imperative. That advocacy group shares Pearson’s concerns on funding, according to a statement provided by a LeadingAge representative Tuesday.

“Our seniors deserve access to care in their home communities and our caregivers deserve wages that reflect the difficult demands of this profession,” the LTC Imperative statement said. “We’ve already seen the long-term care workforce shortage impacting other sectors of our economy and disrupting communities. If we are going to ensure access to care for our seniors, retain our current caregivers and attract new individuals into this amazing profession, the state needs to place a priority on funding this.”

Pearson encouraged Minnesota providers to participate in the Feb. 29 forum if they can.

“We have encouraged members to go and participate to hopefully tell a story,” he said, “and also to listen. We may not have all the answers to start with and we want to hear what other folks have to say.”