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Local Commentary: Aging reality is scarier than state budget shortfall

By Twig Webster

At a time when state leaders are anxiously focusing on an aging transportation infrastructure, aging school buildings and an aging healthcare system, another aging crisis has been ignored.

You could hear the first rumblings of this impending crisis on Oct. 15, 2007, when the nation's first baby boomer, born Jan. 1, 1946, at 12:01, applied for Social Security Benefits.

And as this rumbling of aging baby boomers filing for Social Security applications turns into an avalanche, Minnesota leaders must come to the realization that the state is not financially prepared to deal with the needs of our changing society.

The needs of the current senior citizens are much different than the seniors of a bygone generation. While the traditional nursing home model will remain an option, today's seniors require, and are demanding, a continuum of care options--from home care and support services and independent living units to assisted living--to meet their ever-changing needs.

In just over 10 years, the older population in Minnesota will double and by 2020, there will be more senior citizens than school children.

Minnesota's senior voters are not ignoring the issue. New survey results suggest a strong majority of Minnesotans believe that the state government needs to provide additional funding and support for nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

According to the poll results released by the Long-Term Care Imperative, 83 percent of Minnesota voters believe that additional resources are needed for long-term care. When asked about which should be the most important priority for the state legislature's funding over the next two years, elderly services ranked second, only behind K-12 education.

The unprecedented disparity will have a ripple effect throughout society. Today registered nurses working in hospitals make an average of $20,000 more per year than the registered nurses working for older adult service providers such as West Wind Village in Morris. This gap in equity is squeezing long-term care providers. Of the 48 long-term care facilities that have closed in Minnesota, 26 have been since 2003.

Minnesota nursing and residential care facilities alone support nearly 120,000 jobs, many are the leading employer in their communities. In addition to nursing and residential care facilities, other older adult service providers also provide valuable jobs throughout the state and together contribute more than $2.6 billion annually to the state's economy. For some time now our governor and legislature have been paralyzed by the effects of a weak economy, and this year's forecast isn't looking any better. Unfortunately for boomers, the aging clock doesn't slow down with the economy.

It's easy to see how the survey results verified that long-term care is one of the top three issues in the state, along with transportation and education.

Twig Webster is Director of Marketing for St. Francis Health Services, in Morris.