NEENAH -- We are approaching a demographic shift in Wisconsin where the average age is increasing. It’s a hard truth, but it’s one we all face: You, and everyone you know and love, are going to get older.


When the time comes to start making decisions about a nursing home or assisted living facility, for yourself or for a parent or loved one, you’ll probably want to be assured of two things. First, that the staff there are competent, compassionate and qualified; second, that it’s integrated into the community and near to friends and family.

Let’s face another truth together: Nursing homes have been closing across the state of Wisconsin. Part of this is due to our aging population choosing to remain in the home and independent for longer. This is a good thing.

But another factor playing into this is the low reimbursement rate these facilities have historically been faced with. This makes it more difficult to fill openings with skilled workers and, yes, forces some closures. As the next wave of our families gets older, we need to know that even under these parameters, we will have good options close to home.

Now, for the uplifting part. On an 11-4 party-line vote by the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee, state Republicans have pumped $231.6 million in new funding into direct caregiver wages, responding to that need. It’s a step in the right direction toward addressing both the workforce issue in nursing homes as well as helping to stop the closures we’re being faced with.

This new money includes a 120% increase above our Family Care workforce initiative last budget cycle, a 7% increase to the nursing home reimbursement rate, and $91 million (a 9% increase) to the personal care reimbursement rate. With regards to personal care, I received a letter recently that told me this “critical funding” is “the largest increase in nearly two decades.” The letter went on to read, “[for] the first time in a long time, agencies and workers feel hopeful about the future.”

While the governor likes to talk about how he is addressing health care, here are all the facts: We put a lot more money into addressing this critical issue than he did. We more than doubled his funding request, to the tune of $158.9 million additional dollars. We heard our nursing and assisted living homes, and our personal care workers, asking for help, and we acted. We can respond to this state’s health care needs by continuing to make smart funding decisions.

We did it when we covered every single Wisconsinite up to the poverty limit with Badger Care, and we did it again this month when we ensured that our direct care workforce will be there for us and our families when we age.

This was one of the issues we continue to hear about most, from our county officials and from our concerned friends, neighbors and voters. This was a vote I was proud to take, and I will continue to advocate for the needs of our elderly and those who care for them.