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New Law Protects Older, Vulnerable Minnesotans

Home healthcare nurse with senior adult patient. Medications.

Managing her aging parents’ move from the South St. Paul house where she grew up gave state Sen. Karin Housley (R-Stillwater) an unexpected  crash course in navigating assisted living.

Housley’s parents, Jeanette and Peter Locke, moved to a Twin Cities long-term care facility in 2014 because of Jeanette’s dementia. But Housley soon learned that it couldn’t adequately care for her mother. 

“They said they could take care of her until the end of her life, but they couldn’t, because they didn’t have memory care,” Housley says. “Had I known, I would have made a different decision.”

A year later, on the day Housley and her dad were moving her mom to a nursing home, the stress and prospect of living separately took its toll. 

“We were wheeling her out of the place they lived together to go to memory care and my dad had a heart attack and died a few days later,” Housley says. 

Her mother died three years after that.

Housley’s ordeal—and those of families she’s heard from—galvanized her to cowrite the Elder Care and Vulnerable Adult Protection Act of 2019, which went fully into effect on Aug. 1. The sweeping set of reforms include licensure and new rights for Minnesota’s 60,000 assisted living residents and their families. 

State Rep. Jen Schultz (D-Duluth), coauthor of the act with Housley, says, “We were hearing so many complaints from residents and their loved ones. There were adverse events because of inadequate staffing and also maltreatment.”

AARP Minnesota pushed for the act and examined current laws as leader of the state’s elder-abuse work group, says Mary Jo George, its state advocacy director. “While there were many gaps in the laws, there were also many laws on the books that were unenforceable,” she observes.

Horror stories emerged from the work group’s research, like that of the man who lay dead in his unit for a week because no staff had checked on him.

The new assisted living facility law requires a licensed director, one accountable entity for both housing and services, and protections against unfair discharges and retaliation. Facilities providing dementia care also must have enhanced staff training.

More oversight planned

About 80 percent of the state’s 2,448 providers have had licenses approved, says Lindsey Krueger, family liaison program manager at the Minnesota Department of Health. 

“We are one of the last states to have this type of licensure, and believe it will provide a more stable and safer environment,” Krueger says.

Assisted living residents and prospective residents will benefit from uniform disclosures of the services, initial assessments and follow-ups by registered nurses and stronger staffing standards.

The act also increases funding for agencies that advocate for residents and their families, such as the Office of the Ombudsman for Long-Term Care and the Minnesota Adult Abuse Reporting Center. 

Krueger says that her team, which already oversaw home care providers, will also monitor assisted living facilities. “Licensure aims at setting a higher bar for care providers,” she says. “It creates a clear path for accountability.”

Mary Van Beusekom is a writer living in Excelsior

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