Minnesota to license assisted-living homes, at long last for advocates

Advocates for elder justice cheered Wednesday as Gov. Tim Walz promoted a new state law that makes Minnesota the final state in the U.S. to begin licensing assisted-living facilities.

The law also spells out how families can install hidden cameras in a loved one’s room to catch suspected abuse or neglect. And it provides more funding to two state agencies to enforce new licensing requirements.

Walz signed the regulations into law in late May, but held a ceremonial bill signing Wednesday at the Minnesota World Elder Abuse Awareness Day Conference in Brooklyn Center. There, he promised that the state would better protect its seniors.

“It’s always difficult. There will be some fits and starts but I think the commitment to getting it right is one that we’ll just keep until we perfect it,” Walz told reporters after the ceremony.

The legislation was a bipartisan effort between the House and Senate. Elder justice advocates have been pushing for the changes for more than two years.

“It’s hard to talk about what your parents went through or what your spouse went through, and thankfully, they did that,” said Kris Sundberg, president of Elder Voice Family Advocates. Sundberg said she was inspired to join the effort after her own father’s body was left in his room for seven days without a welfare check three years ago.

During one recent week, Minnesota had 469 cases of suspected elder abuse, she said.

Jan Malcolm, the state’s health commissioner, described Minnesota’s current assisted living regulations as a “patchwork quilt” that left a lot of holes.

The Health Department will start developing new regulations in July to comply with the law, and the rules will be subject to a public comment period, Malcolm said.

“Certainly with legislation as complicated as this, we expect we’ll be making improvements in future years,” she told reporters. “We’ll learn as we go. But this is an incredibly important first step.”

Until this year, the legislation sputtered. But Patti Cullen, chief executive of Care Providers of Minnesota, one of the major associations of assisted-living facilities, said her group supports the new law.

“I think Minnesota should be proud, when I look at what all the other states have, that we passed something that is really setting the stage for the nation,” Cullen said. She predicted the state would be able to handle the new licensing process by August 2021, when all providers must be licensed.

However, Cullen said some providers will face several thousands of dollars in new licensing fees and staffing requirements. They may pass those costs on to clients, Cullen said.

The law also allows families to put cameras in a loved one’s room without telling officials at the facility. Starting in January, families will have to notify the state’s long-term care ombudsman at the Health Department before installing the camera. That will ensure that the resident has agreed to it, said state Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Marys Point.

“Knowing that the cameras are in there as a possibility will prevent a lot of what has been happening,” Housley said.

Families would have to notify the facility if the camera remains installed for 14 days.

Housley’s mother died in February after a struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. Two other state senators also recently lost parents to Alzheimer’s, she said.