In January, my grandmother moved into a memory care unit in Texas. She had been living alone at home, with round-the-clock caregivers and an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, but after a number of falls and health problems we decided she couldn’t stay at home anymore. “We” means my mom, my sisters, and I — after my dad passed away, my mom became the primary caregiver for her mother-in-law.
Around the same time, my husband’s grandmother moved into a residential memory care unit here in Bismarck. We are fortunate that our families can afford specialized care for each of our last surviving grandparents, but for many families, long-term care is a severe financial as well as emotional stressor.
As I enter “the sandwich generation,” providing care both for children and aging relatives, I join a large contingent of the population — primarily women — facing tough decisions about how we provide for our elderly. Unlike many other states, most long-term care facilities in North Dakota are nonprofits or faith-based institutions, not for-profit. We rely on state and federal funding to help pay for in-home as well as nursing home care.
In 2016, for the first time in decades, North Dakota cut funding for both in-home and long-term care providers. In 2017, the Legislature did not fund increases for anyone — for children, the disabled, or care for the elderly. Gov. Doug Burgum’s recent budget proposed only a 1 percent increase for our in-home and long-term care workforce for each year of the new biennium. Due to past cuts that have already drained emergency funds, plus a crumbling staff structure currently filled with contract nurses, eldercare service providers are requesting a 3 percent increase to stay afloat.
In full disclosure, I am related by marriage to Shelly Peterson, president of the North Dakota Long Term Care Association, and have been following this issue closely — though I represent no one’s opinions but my own. As of this writing, the Senate passed Senate Bill 2012 with a 2 percent increase for year one and 3 percent for year two of this biennium, and the bill now sits in the House with 2 percent increase proposed for each year. This is an improvement over the governor’s budget, but not enough.
Our society values energy sector and technology-based jobs more than educating our youth or caring for the sick and elderly. This is not a new problem. But we are at a juncture where our state can take a stand for our values, and as our religious traditions teach, I believe those values should include caring for the widow and the orphan.
Instead, our governor proposes only a 1 percent increase for our caregiving workforce while championing new expenses, such as spending $50 million to build a private, unofficial presidential library in a seasonal tourist town. As demonstrated by interest from the Waltons of the Walmart empire and others, the library could be fully funded by private investors. Are those investors going to help pay a living wage to the workers who take care of my husband’s grandmother? I don’t think so.
Our caregivers and our elderly deserve better. We all have aging family members and hope to grow old ourselves, so this issue touches everyone. We can afford to take care of our elders and those who provide for them.