Princeton nursing-home bill heard after delay

At far right, Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, brought legislation to the Health and Human Services Finance Committee on Tuesday (March 12) to help the Elim Care & Rehab Center of Princeton receive more reimbursement. She was accompanied by nursing assistant Teresa Gerth and by Elim administrator Todd Lundeen.

At far right, Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, brought legislation to the Health and Human Services Finance Committee on Tuesday (March
12) to help the Elim Care & Rehab Center of Princeton receive more reimbursement. She was accompanied by nursing assistant Teresa Gerth and by Elim administrator Todd Lundeen.

A nearly week-long delay in hearing a nursing-facility rate-increase bill for the Elim Care & Rehab Center in Princeton did not spell doom for the legislation.

In fact, there was nary a question by House Health and Human Services Finance Committee members when House File 375 was heard today (March 12). Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, is author of the bill.

The bill was moved by the committee for possible inclusion in future legislative action.

Erickson was visibly upset last week when she brought three witnesses to testify in favor of the bill and saw them sent home without testifying. A hearing March 6 was adjourned by Chairman Thomas Huntley, DFL-Duluth, to allow another committee to occupy the hearing room at its designated time.

Two of Erickson’s witnesses returned to testify. Teresa Gerth, nursing assistant at Elim, was first. She was followed by Todd Lundeen, campus resident. Nursing home resident James Gibson did not return to testify.

Erickson’s bill provides an operating payment rate increase for the Elim nursing facility.

The legislation would push the 113-bed Princeton facility into a different reimbursement group, giving it more reimbursement dollars, effective Oct. 1, 2013.

Gerth, a nurse by profession for 32 years, said in the last 10 years her wages have been frozen seven times. She said if she did not consider benefits, she was receiving $12.28 an hour.

“I enjoy my calling, working with the elderly, and I want to be a voice for care givers in Princeton, Minnesota,” Gerth said. She told of a popular Elim residents’ program named “Persons First” no longer being funded.

Elim provided hands-on care givers who made Elim a home setting so the elderly could be treated as they were in their own homes. Kitchen facilities were set up at all of the stations and involved the residents in baking.

“We saw that program fall to the wayside and we would like to see it come back but we realize that the wage freeze has to be addressed so we can keep the people like myself and others who feel we are called to be a hands-on care giver,” Gerth said.

Elim administrator Lundeen said, “One of our challenges is with reimbursement in our area. Our staff is struggling with the wage they are being paid and we are having a hard time competing with other facilities.”

The city of Princeton is in both Mille Lacs and Sherburne Counties, Lundeen explained. Shurburne County is considered metro and receives a larger operating fee. It is located only seven blocks north of the Elim facility. “Had we been built eight blocks south, we would have been metro,” Lundeen said. The Fairview Northland Hospital moved eight blocks south 10 years ago.

In comparing rates, Lundeen said a facility in Elk River receives $706,000 a year more; Onamia receives $1.1 million more annually and a facility in Foley receives $980,000 more each year.

Lundeen read a letter from former Sen. Robert Dunn, Princeton, supporting a metro rather than rural classification. He praised Elim for providing excellent and passionate care.

Administrator Lundeen said when he applies for his administrator’s license each year, he says he will uphold the laws of Minnesota and also will “do the best I possibly can to make sure our residents are safe and well cared for.” He said he expects the Legislature to do the same. Lundeen said it looked like the Legislature was balancing parts of the budget on care givers.

Vice Chair Kim Norton said the witnesses had stated a need recognized for some time and if the governor and Legislature choose to support some increases in the budget, it is hoped that this is one area where some help and relief can be given.

Howard Lestrud can be reached at howard.lestrud@ecm-inc.com

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