Report: Minnesota healthcare workers leave with ‘crisis rates’

In 2022, Minnesota nursing homes reported staffing shortages worse than anywhere else in the country. The ability to find direct caregivers for these and other facilities has become a crisis. That’s according to a new report from the University of Minnesota.

“The crisis of the low-wage healthcare workforce is a crisis for all those in need of care,” write the report’s authors.

While direct care work can be incredibly dangerous, it doesn’t pay well. According to the report, over 40 percent of Minnesota’s direct care workers earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line, and nearly half use Medicaid or Medicare for insurance.

That applies to frontline work that involved exposure to COVID-19 prior to vaccine development and results in injury rates higher than those experienced by firefighters.

“Workers suffered huge losses in the early months of the pandemic when 15 percent of those hospitalized before the vaccines contracted COVID,” said Jamie Gulley, president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota.

Now that vaccines are available and the pandemic is abating, Minnesota’s health care work has become significantly more difficult due to staff shortages.

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“Although the pandemic was difficult in its own way, most of our respondents said that labor shortages actually made work much more difficult as we recovered from the pandemic,” said the report’s author, Jeanette Dill.

The people who do direct care work in Minnesota are overwhelmingly women — 85 percent — and 36 percent are people of color. It’s a legacy that Dill says stems from America’s history of slavery and domestic labor.

“We have historically relied in particular on black women and other women of color, including migrant women, to provide these types of home care and home services. It’s part of our historical legacy here in the United States…women of color have had less access to educational opportunities and are therefore more confined to these low-wage occupations,” Dill said.

To address critical and growing bottlenecks, the report recommends a reallocation of Medicaid and Medicare spending. Current Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement policies and practices “often encourage dramatic wage inequalities within and between health professions,” according to the report, and favor services focused on male-dominated surgical and technology jobs.

Other recommendations include support for organizing workers. Nearly half of Minnesota’s home care workers are unionized, as are 32 percent of nursing home workers.

“The low-wage effect has a huge cost to the system,” Gulley said. “The most important thing we need to see is higher pay. Yes, unionized workers earn a little more than non-union workers, as you might expect. But we also stay longer. There’s a lot more retention, you see a lot more continuity in the care.”

Both Republican and Democratic Minnesota lawmakers have expressed support for addressing Minnesota’s direct care issues.

“It’s a big deal. It’s gone from a kind of challenge to a problem, to a big problem to a crisis to, ‘I don’t know what the next level is, but the system is on the brink of collapse,'” he said Sen. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka). .

Sen. John Hoffman (DFL-Champlin), who serves with Abeler on the policy committee on aging and long-term care, agrees and hopes to introduce a bill that addresses direct care issues at the upcoming session.

“The people who need (these) services are dying, they’re filling up our hospitals,” Hoffman said. “Care is a system. As Jim says, the infrastructure is collapsing. 53,000 job offers and no one is seriously talking about paying people what they have to pay.”

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