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Budget cuts could hit elderly in Perham, NY Mills

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As the Minnesota Legislature continues to debate the 2011-2012 budget, one thing appears certain: The cuts will be felt throughout society, hitting even the elderly.

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Gov. Mark Dayton recently revealed his budget plan to address the $5 billion state deficit, and state Republicans are working on their own proposal, which some fear would include cuts that are more severe than Dayton's. Dayton's plan involved raising taxes, but Republicans have said that they will not raise taxes to address the deficit.

Either way, both the Perham Memorial Home and the Elders' Home in New York Mills would be directly affected.

With the rapid aging of baby boomers - a group that will be soon needing long-term, home or assisted care - the cuts are coming at a bad time, said Marilyn Oelfke, senior director of Long-Term Care Services at the Perham Memorial Hospital and Home (PMHH).

Perham Memorial Home

Oelfke, Dan Peterson, senior director of Community Services and Brad Wurgler, senior director of Fiscal and Support Services of PMHH all agree that proposed budget cuts would impact how the hospital does business.

"It's not just the memorial home itself that would be affected," Peterson said. "Senior Services is such a broad sweep of programs and services that we offer, and everything would be affected."

In an email, PMHH CEO Chuck Hofius wrote that the nursing home would receive a 4.3 percent budget cut, which would amount to $166,493.

"Our Supportive Living Services program, which keeps nursing home eligible seniors in their own home will receive cuts of $8,000," Hofius wrote. "This program is already losing $48,000 per year."

According to Hofius, the overall reduction to the PMHH in Dayton's cuts are $386,731.

"This is very concerning considering the Republican legislators promise not to increase taxes," Hofius said. "That would mean they would have to cut four times deeper than the Governor."

Employees in Perham who have already been hit in recent years would directly feel the cuts, said Oelfke.

This past year was the first that a wage freeze was instituted for employees of the Perham Memorial Home. Staff is already working 7.5 hours, instead of 8, Oelfke said.

"These people that work with the elderly are already some of the most underpaid workers out there, but also they're so valuable in terms of the work that they do," Peterson said.

"These cuts are going to make it difficult to provide the services that we provide to the elderly," he added.

Peterson also pointed to senior services programs that have already been discontinued at the home, such as the homemaking and personal care attendant programs.

"The reason that most of the elderly haven't felt these cuts yet is because of the staff," Oelfke said. "They've learned to do more and more with less. But how long can this continue? You can only do so much with less."

With the PMHH being the second largest employer in Perham, Oelfke said cuts to senior services could be felt throughout the city.

"When we lose, not only do the elderly lose, but the city too," she said.

NY Mills Elders' Home

In NY Mills, Administration Director Cal Anderson said the Elders' Home stands to lose $86,000 in revenue, and possibly more, due to the budget cuts.

"It doesn't look good," Anderson said.

Anderson said the Elders' Home has already had pay freezes for the last two years.

"We've already been trimming health insurance plans to try and save money," he said. "But this would be our most severe adjustment that we've had to make."

According to Anderson, depending on what happens with the Republicans' budget, the Elders' Home would probably have to look at reducing employee benefits, which he said could cause a problem for the home's workforce.

"We need to have a competitive health insurance benefit package to compete with other regional care centers so we can attract the best possible staff," he said. "So this could lead to staff turnover, which would directly affect the elderly."

Such cuts would be unfortunate, Anderson said, "because employees are already taking the brunt of cuts over here, and it's not fair to them. They work hard every day."

Anderson said he's planning on travelling to St. Paul on March 30 for the Aging Services of Minnesota Trade Association Day at the Capitol. He hopes to meet one-on-one with state Rep. Mark Murdock (R- Ottertail) and Sen. Gretchen Hoffman (R-Vergas) to express his concerns.

"The thing that the Legislature needs to get their arms around, at some point, is that there's a large aging population, and people are also living longer," Anderson said. "This is a problem that's not going to go away. It's only going to get worse. They need to start thinking about this on a long-term basis."

Peterson referred to the last speech ever given by former Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey, which reads:

"The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped."

"Going by that measurement," Peterson said, "Minnesota's failed miserably."

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