Our take: Expect love in St. Paul for health workers this session – Duluth News Tribune

Yes, there’s that huge $7.75 billion budget surplus and the equally huge number of ideas for how to spend it, save it, or give back to the taxpayers of Minnesota.

And yes, it’s a bonding session, at one point the only reason lawmakers met in even-numbered years. In Duluth, our state’s continued commitment to maintaining and investing responsibly in public infrastructure and amenities can mean big money this year for the Northern Lights Express, the restoration and renovation of the historic Duluth Armory. , Spirit Mountain, Sky Lift, and more.

The pandemic, however, which continues to hold our state and our nation in its deadly grip, will also get a lot of attention during this session of the Minnesota Legislative Assembly, especially healthcare and long-term care workers. in the first line. So say delegates from Duluth to St. Paul, Sen. Jen McEwen and Reps. Liz Olson and Jennifer Schultz. The three held a virtual town hall on January 22.

Between anti-Republican rants and promotions for DFL priorities, they made it clear that this session would not be limited to ties or surplus. After nearly two years of illness, support for those most affected by COVID in Minnesota will also be in order.

“As a community, as a society, we really need to reevaluate how we value the care professions because they’ve been undervalued for so long,” said Schultz, who represents District 7A in the east. of Duluth. “There was a crisis in the care professions and in the health workforce before the pandemic, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the crisis.”

Exacerbated may be an understatement. One in five healthcare workers have left the profession since the start of the pandemic, as the Atlantic reported in November. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that health care has lost nearly half a million workers since February 2020.

That’s why the Minnesota Legislature, as Schultz put it, needs to “consider a whole range of options and solutions to help people get training; to (help people) to enter caring professions; establish higher reimbursements so that higher wages can be paid; to provide more attractive benefits like paid time off, earned sick and security leave, tuition, student debt relief, and child care benefits – to really retain the workers we already have in these occupations.

The shortage of healthcare workers will only get worse as Minnesotans age. And, Schultz said, “most other states are facing the same crisis, so we’re also advocating at the federal level for support.”

National Guard members activated to help provide care in emergency rooms and COVID-crowded intensive care units are all the evidence Minnesota lawmakers should need to act quickly and decisively this session. With the legislature divided — Republicans hold the majority in the Senate, while the DFL controls the House and the governor’s office — lawmakers must find a way to work together.

Olson is carrying a bill this session, she said, to help nurses stay in nursing. Potential incentives for retention through legislation could include counseling for burnt-out hospital workers, forgiveness of student loans and help with childcare costs.

“We really try to make sure that (nurses) stay on the ground, that there are incentives to be there, that they have the support when they’re at the bedside,” said Olson, who represents the Western Duluth district. 7B in the Minnesota home. “It’s a very comprehensive package that I will be working on with the nurses association, talking about it and crossing the finish line this session. »

Lawmakers will also debate raising wages for frontline workers, McEwen said. “Our health care system is a waste, cruel and profit driven. We have a lot of real problems in many areas,” she said.

Childcare, both affordable and available, is a challenge for the workforce in all industries, not just health care, Olson pointed out. Also watch for legislation this year, she said, to meet her needs, including, perhaps, state dollars to help build new centers.

With the pandemic refusing to give way, the needs of Minnesota’s frontline health workers deserve the attention of the state Capitol in the weeks ahead. These needs cannot be buried or lost when other issues – the budget surplus, bail priorities, housing, education, public safety, etc. – are also discussed.

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