Governor Tim Walz last week announced new measures to address severe staffing shortages affecting the health and safety of older Minnesotans and people with disabilities as the COVID-19 Omicron variant spreads across the state. The actions provide funding for staffing in nursing homes and group homes and for in-home services for people with disabilities. These providers are grappling with severe workforce emergencies amid rapidly rising COVID-19 caseloads.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services will exercise emergency authority under state law to expedite Medicaid funding to nursing homes and direct support services for people with disabilities facing significant staffing crises in the pandemic. This step, which requires federal approval, will make up to $83 million in state and federal funds available to cover emergency costs that will help providers maintain their workforce.

Nursing homes will also receive a temporary 5% increase on average in state payment rates. This increase gives nursing facilities access to about $52 million in immediate funding while DHS works to set permanent Medicaid rates for 2022 that reflect costs of the pandemic.

Impacted direct support services for people with disabilities will receive a 5% rate increase from March through May, if Minnesota’s action receives federal approval, and is intended for staff hiring and retention incentives.

“Our long-term care providers and disability service providers continue to fight on the frontlines of the pandemic and take care of Minnesotans in need,” said Governor Walz. “Our actions today will provide urgent resources to critically understaffed nursing facilities and services for people with disabilities across the state.”

“We are working hard to ensure that care providers are supported and that every Minnesotan can receive the services and care they need,” said Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. “Getting these resources into the hands of providers will help their employees and the people they care for weather the latest wave of the pandemic.”

“We are doing our utmost to make these additional resources available as soon as possible to providers,” said Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead. “We are also looking at additional ways that we may enhance our support to other sectors through the pandemic and beyond, because we know that these investments will not ensure the long-term health of these Caring Professions sectors. These two sectors will play the most direct role in hospital decompression through the Omicron surge.”

The Walz-Flanagan Administration’s multi-faceted action plan for long-term care includes training and deploying 1,000 new certified nursing assistants to long-term care facilities; distributing $50 million in federal American Rescue Plan funding to long-term care facilities to hire and retain employees; and deploying more than 350 National Guard members to provide staffing support at long-term care facilities. A state emergency staffing pool for residential service providers experiencing staffing shortages due to COVID-19 ended at the end of December.

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