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State needs to increase funding for elderly care


Janessa Vogel, administrator at Elm Crest Manor in New Salem, talks about the challenges the small nursing home has maintaining a full nursing staff with competitive pay during a press conference last month in Bismarck by the North Dakota Long Term Care Association. 

If you’re fortunate you’ll live to an old age in relative good health. The reality is many people fight ailments later in life and need assisted living help or nursing home care. That means they need some kind of nursing home accommodations.

According to, the life expectancy in the U.S. is 79 years. For women it’s 81 and for men it’s 76. In comparison, the average life span is 31.99 years in Swaziland and 82 years in Japan.

Some people are able to live on their own until death while others find themselves in need of care in their 50s or 60s. It’s not a situation anyone wants to find themselves in. For the elderly, especially, the Tribune Editorial Board believes the community has some responsibility. Older citizens can be doing well on their own and one serious illness can change their lifestyle, forcing them to seek nursing home care. That care gets expensive.

During the legislative session of 2017 the funding for nursing facilities in the state wasn’t increased for the first time. That forced nursing homes to borrow from banks and dip into reserves. The homes "literally depleted any money that they had," according to Shelly Peterson, president of the North Dakota Long-Term Care Association.

This session, Gov. Doug Burgum has asked for a 1 percent increase in funding for nursing homes in each year of the 2019-21 biennium. The homes argue they need a 3 percent increase to help with recruiting and retaining staff and paying for growing costs, such as building maintenance and employee health insurance.

The Tribune Editorial Board believes the 3 percent request is reasonable. While the Tribune has commended the governor for offering a conservative budget, we think there are other items in his budget that can be cut to allow for 3 percent for nursing homes. We also realize the Legislature makes the final budget decisions and we urge them to provide the 3 percent increase for the facilities.

The Tribune doesn’t expect the state to provide everything for nursing homes. However, money is needed to recruit and retain staff and deal with increasing costs of medical supplies and equipment, as well as employee benefits.

Nursing homes have taken steps to be more efficient. Beds at nursing homes with empty rooms have been sold to nursing homes in larger cities in need of beds. Other cost-cutting steps have been taken.

"After two years of operating at a loss and starting the new budget year at a loss, we truly need our governor and legislators to support a 3 percent inflator in 2019 and 2020 for long-term care," Craig Christianson, CEO of Sheyenne Care Center in Valley City, said.

For those suffering dementia, diabetes, cancer or numerous other illnesses the last years of life can be very difficult. While family members might want to provide care at home that’s not always realistic. For nursing homes to help fill the void without taking the families to the financial brink it’s essential for the state to help.

"(One percent) is a beginning point, but it's not enough to deliver the resident care that we believe that we need to deliver and that, most importantly, every single resident in our care deserves," Peterson said at a recent news conference.

Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, who chairs the Senate Human Services Committee, said she supports at least a 3 percent increase and that funding long-term care is a priority of legislators. The Tribune urges legislators to follow through on that commitment. We need to assure North Dakotans as they age that they won’t be forgotten.


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