Assisted Elder Care or Assisted Elder Torture?

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Bill Sorem

Assisted living facilities in Minnesota can provide superb elder care or they can provide scary conditions. The December, 2018, Minneapolis League of Women Voters Civic Buzz presented a discussion entitled, “Vulnerable Elders Face Scare not Care.” A packed house listened and questioned.

Presenters were Kris Sandberg, President of the Elder Voice Family Advocates and Sean Burke, Public Policy Director of the Minnesota Elder Justice Center.

Elder housing is a continuum of care options ranging from independent living housing (rental, condominium or cooperative), assisted living facilities to nursing homes. Nursing homes are licensed by the federal government. On the other hand, Minnesota is the only state that does not license assisted living facilities according to Elder Voice Family Advocates.

Assisted living abuse issues were highlighted in a 2017 series by Chris Serres in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. One of the conclusions of this report was, “Each year, hundreds of Minnesotans are beaten, sexually assaulted or robbed in senior care homes. There cases are seldom investigated, leaving families in the dark,”

Sandberg became involved in this issue when she returned home from a trip to find that her deceased father was left in a care facility room for seven days after he died. She described the unbelievable situation presented to the family including a notice to clear out his room immediately even though he had not been removed for a week. Elder Voice Family Advocates work to resolve problem situations and to enact legislation to close the gaps in coverage.

Burke is an attorney with Minnesota Elder Justice Center providing a range of legal services and organizing support groups for family members. He also spends a lot of time at the Minnesota Capitol working on legislative solutions. Both Sandberg and Burke report that even though a number of supporters have left the legislature, the incoming members include doctors, nurses and other caregivers that understand the situation and thus they are hopeful for significant progress in the upcoming session.

There are some complicating factors in resolving care problems. Burke said assisted living facilities involve two components. One is the physical facility, the other the specific care providers. In some cases they are one unit, in others they are separate facility management and staffing groups. Thus responsibility and/or liability are not always clearly defined.

Burke also pointed out that since Minnesota does not license assisted living facilities, there are no clear staffing requirements for training or experience. Many of the jobs are low paid and there may be language issues between resident and staff. There is also a range of resident’s mental and physical ability. The resident may not be able to communicate the nature of any problem with other family members.

Burke restated his hope that some of the assisted living confusion will be resolved in the next Minnesota Legislative session.

Bill Sorem

Bill Sorem is a longtime advertising professional who started with Campbell Mithun and ended up with his own agency. After a tour as a sailing fleet manager in the Virgin Islands he turned to database programming as an independent consultant. He has written sailing guides for the British Virgin Islands and Belize, and written for a number of blogs. In 2010, he volunteered as a citizen journalist with The UpTake and has stayed on as a video reporter.

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