Closures, sanctions cause worry

As Minnesota group home residents struggle with a lack of staffing and closures, another curveball has been thrown at many […]

As Minnesota group home residents struggle with a lack of staffing and closures, another curveball has been thrown at many residents and their families. In July the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) announced that it would revoke the license of St. Paul-based Bridges MN. State officials alleged “serious and repeated” health and safety violations, as well as maltreatment of residents. 

The revocation was to go into effect July 12. Bridges MN, which has about 500 clients and more than 90 facilities statewide, appealed the state action. That in turn could trigger a long and complicated process with state officials, which could wind up in the hands of an administrative law judge. 

The revocation was announced days after service providers picketed outside the governor’s mansion in St. Paul, to draw attention to the dire situation they face and plead for a special legislative session to address the wage disparities. More than 170 group homes across Minnesota have closed since last fall. 
Staff shortages and low wages for direct care staff are to blame for the closings. The action in St. Paul was meant to a situation that has grown beyond the crisis stage. 

Signs held outside of the governor’s mansion asked, “Where will I live?” 

The closings this far represent more than 4 percent of the state’s group homes. 

Direct care staff members are leaving due to the demands of the work, and the ability to make more money in other jobs. Group home operators struggle with state and federal reimbursements through Medicaid and Medicare, at about $14 per hour. Not all operators are able to subsidize those wages. 
A survey by the housing umbrella group ARRM indicated high burnout among workers, with 67 percent of those surveyed saying they plan to leave their jobs within a year. 

It has become a vicious cycle. Disabled people who have lived in the community with services and supports have been forced into group homes when they couldn’t hire staff. Group homes that lack staff are forced to move residents to unfamiliar facilities, or send them to live with family. 
The notion of several hundred more people without places to live is worrisome. The staffing issues overshadow the state’s sanctions against Bridges MN. 

Bridges MN is based in St. Paul’s Midway area. It has about 500 clients and more than 90 facilities. 
A revocation on the order of the Bridges MN action against home and community based service license is a rare move for DHS. But the situation is one of repeated violations and substantiated findings of maltreatment, continued non-compliance with state laws and rules, and continued non-compliance with a conditional license that has been in place since 2020. 

Aldrich Boarding Care Home, LLC, doing business as Bridges MN, provides services to individuals in 48 community residential services facilities, seven integrated community settings and in clients’ or families’ homes. 

State documents indicate that Bridges MN was placed on conditional status in March 2020 after a 2019 licensing review. Violations included knowingly withholding relevant information from the DHS commissioner, denying access to records, failing to ensure the health, safety and rights of persons receiving services, and failing to comply with background study requirements. 

Licensing reviews and complaint investigations over the past two years revealed what DHS called “a pattern of non-compliance” with license terms and state rules and statutes. 

Allegations detailed by DHS are shocking, including physical abuse, maltreatment and neglect of clients. Staffers at Forest Lake and Kimball facilities are alleged to have had sexual relationships with vulnerable adults. One person who was receiving home care was found in squalid conditions, and later died. 
Bridges MN officials disagree with the findings, releasing a statement challenging the allegations. State law allows Bridges MN to continue providing services for people under its care during the appeal. 
An appeal could take up to a year to be resolved.

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