The 2018 legislative session began on February 20, and as your state senator, my first and foremost responsibility is being a good listener. My office is a place where all ideas and viewpoints are welcome. Please keep your visits, letters, emails, and phone calls coming.
Based on what I am hearing from residents of Blaine, Coon Rapids, and Spring Lake Park, your personal safety and the safety of your loved ones is the top priority you want me to focus on this year. For example, your kids should be safe when they are in school. Grandparents and senior citizens should be safe when they are receiving care in a nursing home or assisted living facility. When you go to work, a doctor appointment, or a local high school football game, the roads that get you there should be safe to drive on.
With your input, I am developing an agenda to create a Safer Minnesota based on three broad categories: Students, Seniors, and Streets.
Children are being gunned down in their schools, and it is an outrage that Congress refuses to do anything about it. This is understandably a very emotional issue for a lot of people, whether it is a parent concerned about their child’s safety at school, a teacher, or a law-abiding gun owner concerned about his or her Second Amendment rights. What most people seem to agree on is that we as a society need to do something.
I am a strong proponent of focusing on the mental health of our young people. Instead of arming teachers with guns, let’s arm schools with more licensed support staff to intervene when students are experiencing mental health crises. In Minnesota’s public schools, there is an alarming shortage of school counselors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and chemical dependency professionals. Compared to other states, we are badly overburdening existing support staff to the point where one person is responsible for the needs of more than 650 students. This makes it extremely difficult for these staff members to give children who are struggling with mental health crises the attention and support they need.
In some cases, grandparents and senior citizens who live in assisted living facilities and nursing homes are being physically and sexually assaulted. It is heartbreaking to think that we as a state are failing to protect our elders who sacrificed so much to build a better life for their kids and grandkids.
According to a new report from the Legislative Auditor released on March 6, the state agency responsible for protecting vulnerable Minnesotans in senior care facilities has failed to meet its responsibilities. I want to thank the Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles and his team for their diligent work to increase public awareness and understanding of this problem. If you want to read the report for yourself, it is available online at www.auditor.leg.state.mn.us.
The report provides recommendations to reform our broken system and prevent further maltreatment. I am reading Mr. Nobles’ report very closely and will work with colleagues of both parties to act on its recommendations. As a member of the Aging and Long-Term Care Policy Committee, I will continue to listen to seniors, families, nursing home employees, and others who are on the front lines.
One threat to the safety of our seniors in nursing homes and long-term care facilities is the 30-40 percent average turnover rate among the industry’s workforce, such as personal care attendants (PCAs). We as a state need to pay the people who care for our loved ones a living wage. Seniors need and want consistent, friendly faces who are well trained and in touch with their needs and lives. I want our PCAs to think of caring for our aging population as a career, not a job. Workers who do a great job caring for our seniors should be compensated appropriately.
Portions of Highway 65 are a major safety concern for people and employers in our area. In response to these concerns, I have met twice with Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) officials and plan to hold a third meeting with city managers from our local municipalities. MnDOT recognizes Highway 65 as a major safety issue and I appreciate their continued participation in discussions about the problem.
MnDOT is using its current budget to fund a two-year study to improve traffic flow and safety on Highway 65. No additional appropriations are required to fund the study, so I look forward to sharing the final plan with you and hearing your feedback. I am also working on legislation to keep you safer on the roads by widening Highway 10 to three lanes between Hanson and Round Lake boulevards and to create safe pedestrian crossings on Highway 47 at Osborne, 81st and 85th Avenues.
Serving as your state senator is one of the great honors of my life. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with you to build a Safer Minnesota for everyone. Please write me, send me an email, or call my office with your feedback. I look forward to hearing your ideas.
This column was first published in the Hometown Source.