The Long-Term Care Imperative conducted a statewide poll last fall to learn more about what Minnesotans think about senior care.

As a part of the poll, we asked an open ended question: What comes to mind when you hear the phrase ‘long-term care for seniors’? Here is a visual representation of the responses we received:

Pretty interesting – overwhelmingly, people think “nursing home” when they think about long-term care. Even more interesting is that nursing homes are actually the least common form of older adult services, reserved only for those with the most complex medical needs.

Senior care in Minnesota is actually a diverse system of different kinds of support, resources to help people stay independent, care options based on an individual’s needs and wants, and variety of different housing and lifestyle choices. We need the whole system (not just one part of it) to be strong in order to meet the changing demands of our aging population.

Below is an infographic developed by the Long-Term Care Imperative to demonstrate a few of the ways Minnesotans access senior care and the journey many people go on as their needs change.

Take a look:

What do you think – does this represent your experience?  What needs to change to make it easier for Minnesotans to get the care they need when and where they need it?

Scott Meldahl takes his cooking very seriously. He is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Minneapolis. He’s been master of the kitchen in some of Minnesota’s most popular restaurants. And he has his sights set on becoming a contestant on Chopped, the hit reality competition show on the Food Network.

But most importantly, Meldahl is the chef at Pioneer Care in Fergus Falls, serving up meals that are made mostly from scratch, using fresh local ingredients. This might come as surprise to people who have misconceptions about the food at a senior living community. Boring and bland? Absolutely not.

Scott was kind enough to share more about how he is leading the charge for high quality dining experience for the older adults he serves:

Scott Meldahl, chef at PioneerCare

What made you decide to learn to be a chef?
When I was 15, I had my first job and it was in a restaurant washing dishes. Eventually as I was able to learn the cooking side, I grew to take great pride in being able to make a customer’s day, even if it was for only a half-hour, by giving them a delicious meal.

It was that feeling of providing a bright spot in someone’s day, that creating of a memory that drove me to grow my skills and push forward in this career choice.

How did you end up at PioneerCare?
Two years ago, my wife had finished her Master’s degree and we were in Duluth at the time. A job opened up over in Fergus Falls, so we decided to check out this side of the state and moved.

One day I was looking for work, and there was an ad for PioneerCare, I had a 2+ hour interview and that sealed it for me, I knew there was a reason I was brought here.

I bet there are a lot of misconceptions about what the food is like at a senior living community.
I truly hope that the misconceptions are changing! I think many people think of hospital food when it comes to senior living. More often than not, eyes widen a bit and smiles grow a bit more when people hear about the food we provide and the lengths we go to provide a great quality product utilizing as much fresh local product as possible.

It isn’t easy and we work very hard to do as much scratch food as possible, but I think that knowing and being able to tell someone exactly what is in the food that they are eating is extremely important.

With all the emphasis on childhood obesity and the foods that schools are serving, I believe we should also be exploring what goes into the foods our aging community is being served when they move into senior housing. Fresh and natural is always better and should be our goal.

Would you be willing to share a recipe?
Of course I would! Here’s a recipe for BBQ Brisket. {Warning, this will feed a lot of people! You’ll want to adjust the recipe for a smaller crowd.}

How is it different (or not different) being the chef at PioneerCare vs. at some of the other restaurants you’ve worked in?
Comparing PioneerCare to restaurants is tough, because in some ways, they are so very different. We have one main choice for each meal (plus an alternate choice), so you know right away that not everyone will always be pleased, and that is sometimes difficult to deal with.

You still strive for every meal to make your customer base happy no matter where you work, but they are living here, so you are cooking basically in the people’s home. I think that brings an added pressure that isn’t there when people are coming to your establishment to eat. It feels at times that roles are almost reversed.

It is a thrilling experience, one that I wouldn’t change.

Thank you, Scott, for taking time to share your story with Aging Services – and for all you do serve older adults!

May 6-12 is National Nurses Week – a time to recognize the extraordinary people who choose a career path of service and support. There is something extra special about the nurses who serve older adults and their families.

As a part of the Aging Services of Minnesota Stars Among Us campaign, we asked caregivers to tell us why they chose a career serving older adults. We received hundreds of responses, but here are just a few that represent the heart and soul of this profession.

We are so thankful for all you do on behalf of older adults and families in Minnesota!

Linda Beyers is a Registered Nurse and Director of Health Services at Potter Ridge Assisted Living. Linda says:

What inspires you to serve older adults? Is there a mentor or fellow caregiver who motivates or helps you? What keeps you going on tough days?
Older adults are beautiful inside and out. I am inspired by their strength, endurance, trust and their life stories. I have been encouraged and motivated by many over the years, including previous directors and co-workers who believed in my skills when I didn’t. I have had challenges, as many have, and I am able to keep going on tough days by using humor along with my faith. My husband and grandchildren are also an inspiration.

What does a career serving older adults mean to you? What is the most meaningful or rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?
My career serving older adults has truly been a blessing. My life is richer because of those I have cared for over the past 30 years. Taking care of older adults is my passion. The most meaningful and rewarding part of my job is being part of a very large family. Older adults desire to learn, and hosting “Coffee with the Nurse” monthly provides education and empowering the residents with knowledge is a joy.

What do you advocate for? What do you want public policy makers to know about the work you do?
I advocate for attentive medical care for aging adults. In the past few months I have experienced negative outcomes when sending residents that are ill to Urgent Care or the Emergency Room. Public Policy makers need to realize older adults can make decisions for themselves. The work we do is not work, it is all about serving one another as we age. This is one of the most rewarding occupations.

Anne Stucki is a Licensed Practical Nurse at Augustana Care. Anne says:

What inspires you to serve older adults? Is there a mentor or fellow caregiver who motivates or helps you? What keeps you going on tough days?
That the work I do improves their quality of life. My Director of Nursing motivates and inspires me by advocating for me and supporting my decisions. It is the little things that keep me going on tough days, the smile or joke from a resident.

What does a career serving older adults mean to you? What is the most meaningful or rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?
A career serving older adults means: Promoting self care and independence to the client’s highest ability, assuring safety/ comfort and cleanliness, maintaining dignity, and maintaining stability. The most meaningful part of my job is not just knowing, but seeing, that my work makes a difference in people’s lives. Most challenging is underfunding for seniors.

What do you advocate for? What do you want public policy makers to know about the work you do?
I advocate for health care coverage for everyone.

Kaitlyn Hennig is a Nurse Manager at Anoka Care CenterVolunteers of America. Kaitlyn says:

What inspires you to serve older adults? Is there a mentor or fellow caregiver who motivates or helps you? What keeps you going on tough days?
Compassion for the elderly and understanding that they have lived a life full of experiences. Now that they may need further assistance with daily living, I am honored to create a comfortable and safe living environment.  What keeps me going on tough days is the residents and their families – understanding that challenges are opportunities blossoming into the environment that we strive to create.

What does a career serving older adults mean to you? What is the most meaningful or rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?
The most rewarding part of my job is seeing the employees, families, and residents with a smile on their face. The most challenging aspect of my career is going home at the end of the day. I always feel like there is more to accomplish in creating a better life for the residents……it’s hard to leave even though I am completely exhausted.

What do you advocate for? What do you want public policy makers to know about the work you do?
I advocate for the residents, families, and my co-workers. I feel that everyone has a voice and it is needs to be heard; everyone has a different thought process and different views and ideas. If I can share their knowledge with others and it benefits something, it is worth it.

Denice Mudra is a Nurse Manager at St. John’s Lutheran Home. Denice says:

What inspires you to serve older adults? Is there a mentor or fellow caregiver who motivates or helps you? What keeps you going on tough days?
I have always had several elderly people in my life, usually family members. The one thing that always impressed me was their spirit of sacrifice-they were willing to do whatever it took to make sure their families were cared for and society progressed.

What does a career serving older adults mean to you? What is the most meaningful or rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?
It means carrying on that spirit so that what they accomplished is not lost. If I can build on what they started I can care for my family and progress society.

What do you advocate for? What do you want public policy makers to know about the work you do?
How hard we work-physically and mentally. I am I am always amazed at my co-workers, how they can always give whatever it takes to get the job done. They truly love their residents and treat them with respect, love and generosity.

Thank you to all nurse caregivers who make a difference every day in the lives of the people you serve. Click here to read more about the caregivers who truly are Stars Among Us here in Minnesota.

If you work in the field of aging services and ever wonder whether you’re really making a difference, this story is for you.

A few weeks ago, a team of amazing people from Presbyterian Homes & Services joined hundreds of Aging Services members for three days of face-to-face advocacy at the State Capitol in St. Paul.

Brandi Barthel, Care Center Administrator at The Gables of Waverly Gardens, shared this moving story about the connection her team shared during their time at the Capitol. It is a powerful reminder of what it means to care for another person’s loved one – the gratitude that people have for this important and honorable work.


Brandi writes:

It starts with a connection.

As we were waiting for our appointment with Senator Goodwin, her Legislative Assistant Billie Ball approached me and said “Bambi?” I looked at her with a moment of confusion.  It was then I remembered she was a family member of a past resident that resided at our Johanna Shores Memory Care Household.

I stood with excitement as the tears flowed down her face.  We shared the memories of her father who had passed away two years ago. She went back to her desk to grab a picture of her father dressed in his Sunday best wearing a hat and a big smile on his face.

This picture was taken during the “glamour shots” activity that we hosted while he lived at Johanna Shores. She said it was one of her favorite pictures of her dad and had it proudly displayed on her desk.

She stopped to show others who walked by the picture of her loving and happy father who embraced the staff of Johanna Shores as family just as we embraced him as our family.  And as families do, we continued to reminisce about everything that made him unique and special.

One of her other fond memories was the “beer and the boys” activity that was inspired and requested by her father. We laughed about how her dad insisted we serve “the real stuff” and how even living in our community he was still the “patriarch of our family.”

You can imagine how this inspired us as we were waiting to speak with Senator Goodwin about the much needed funding for our long term care employees and residents.

When our appointment time arrived, she introduced us to Senator Goodwin as the team that cared for her father and she was so grateful for what we do.  As we met with the Senator, we shared this story and she was compassionate towards our efforts to increase Long Term Care funding.

It was because of the caring staff at Johanna Shores and many other facilities that lovingly embrace the residents that make the positive lasting impressions on families that choose to place their loved ones in our care.

Reminiscing on those times that he shared with us at Johanna Shores reminds us why we have devoted our lives to this industry.  Our nursing assistants and nurses make that happen each day for very little more than a thank you followed by a sincere smile from those that we care for.

But unfortunately this is not enough to pay the bills for these special staff.  The time has come that we must re-invest in the staff that care and make a difference to the parents and loved ones that supported us through our lives.

Our mission says we take in and love the most frail of our people.  It is up to us to ensure the staff that we count on to make these memories can afford to continue to serve, because we cannot afford to lose them.

That is why we stressed to Senator Goodwin not to forget Long Term Care in the Legislative session this year.  It is our front line care givers that need this funding to continue the loving support of our residents and families. Support us in making memories in years to come.


Thank you, Brandi, for sharing this story. Because of your work, one more lawmaker knows just how important it is to support the caregivers who serve our loved ones.

This week, hundreds of caregivers, volunteers and aging services professionals will visit the State Capitol for a week of face-to-face meetings with lawmakers.

The goal of these meetings is simple: to share stories about the changing faces and places of senior care in Minnesota, and urge lawmakers to make this issue a top priority.

Gayle Kvenvold, president and CEO of Aging Services of Minnesota, set the stage for this week’s meetings:

“Someone will always say there isn’t enough money. This is about priorities. Minnesota seniors and caregivers should be among our top priorities – they deserve our support and investment.”

When advocates and caregivers meet with their elected officials this week, they will highlight five key ways to strengthen senior care and prepare Minnesota for the future:

1.      Invest in Caregivers

  • Provide wages that attract and retain the very best caregivers, paying them adequately for the demanding work they do on behalf of Minnesota seniors.
  • Protect the more than 112,600 MN jobs that senior care generates across the state.

 2.      Invest in the Places Where Senior Care is Delivered

  • Fund infrastructure improvements in senior care buildings and communities that will increase the quality of life for residents and allow caregivers to deliver the best possible care.

3.      Invest in Quality 

  • Senior care is so much more than nursing homes. We must invest in new models and innovation that will continue to improve quality, while offering seniors the care/services they need and want.

4.      Create Financial Stability for Seniors, Families and Providers

  • People who can afford it should plan and pay for the cost of long-term care, and we should create tools to help them do that; and
  • Low income seniors should still have access to a safety net and the right level of services for their unique needs. Funding for home and community based service must be adequate to pay for what consumers need.

5.      Invest in the Future

  • Fund technology that improves how we care for seniors, and find ways to truly integrate long-term care services and supports with the rest of the health care world.

Advocates also will share with lawmakers the results of a recent public opinion survey conducted by the Long-Term Care Imperative. Key findings of that survey include:

  • 85 percent of Minnesota voters support increasing funding for in-home and community based care to make it easier for seniors to stay independent longer.
  • 77 percent said they support increasing funding for nursing homes to improve overall quality.
  • 75 percent support allowing individuals to cash in their life insurance in order to pay for long-term care.
  • And finally, 64 percent of voters are willing to pay more in taxes to improve long-term care in Minnesota.

Will you be at the Capitol this week? What will you advocate for? Take a few minutes to visit the Stars Among Us online gallery, where hundreds of senior caregivers have shared what they want lawmakers to know about the important work they do.

For a long time, senior care advocates, lawmakers and the media talked about the Age Wave as something that was “on the horizon” – somewhere out in the future.

Today, that wave of growing demand is on our front door step, and it’s time to ask a key question: Is Minnesota ready?

The second (here is the first) in a series of infographics from the Long-Term Care Imperative focuses on the demographic and economic realities we face, and how Minnesotans feel about specific proposals to help the state – and individuals – prepare for the future.

There is no single, magic way to prepare Minnesota for the changing needs of an aging population. We will need government, individuals, families, senior care providers, caregivers and entire communities to work together.

The Age Wave isn’t coming to Minnesota – it’s here.

The Stars Among Us campaign is an initiative of Aging Services of Minnesota. Our goal is to recognize and celebrate the individual caregivers and aging services professionals who dedicate their lives and careers to serving older adults. They are the backbone of our senior care system. Their stories don’t often make headlines, but they are changing lives every day.


Today, we’re shining a light on Katie Kopher, Assisted Living Program Coordinator at Jones-Harrison in Minneapolis:

What inspires you to serve older adults? Is there a mentor or fellow caregiver who motivates or helps you? What keeps you going on tough days?
The stories I’ve have heard, the lessons I’ve learned, the tears I’ve shared and the happiness brought to my heart to know such a wonderful generation! I wake up every morning excited to go to what some may call work, I call an energizing community. I can thank my mother for being an Activities Director at a nursing home when I was born. She continues to work in therapeutic recreation.

My mom taught me that it isn’t about “me”. I plan to pass the same passion and spirit on to my daughter as my mother did with me. It’s being supportive and having compassion no matter who you work with. There are tough days. I keep a picture of my papa on my desk and when it is tough I look at it and say “What next papa?” I then remember that there is a reason for life’s events and to keep painting the fence or the paint will dry!

What does a career serving older adults mean to you? What is the most meaningful or rewarding part of your job? The most challenging part?
I learn something new every day. It is about finding a way to reach the person who no longer comes out of their room because the sun came up that day. To talk to family and friends to get stories and odd information that may mean nothing to someone else. I strive to make the quality of life for each individual fulfilling for residents and their family.

The biggest reward is that I get to be a part of someone’s memories, stories…life. I love when they smile and the not so happy person says “Thank you.” The most challenging part is to try to be there for everyone all at the same time.

What do you advocate for? What do you want public policy makers to know about the work you do?
I am a big advocate that people cannot be stressed and relaxed at the same time. It just isn’t possible. That is why my co-worker and I work in getting as many folks involved in our senior community as possible. Trying new activities at 100 is better than not trying it at all. I want policy makers to know that people in Therapeutic Recreation are here and here to stay. Baby boomers are coming and they will need places to go and MANY activities to do. I value my job. I wish that we had a little more money for the hard work we do. Policy makers need to remember that it is us that will be organizing their leisure pursuits in the future.


Thank you, Katie, for all you do. You are a great example of the dedicated, talented people who serve Minnesota seniors each day.

A few weeks ago, we released the results of a statewide public opinion poll commissioned by the Long-Term Care Imperative. The results were both fascinating and worrisome.

“These numbers are striking in the reality they depict. Minnesotans act as caregivers for loved ones while they are financially unprepared for their own long-term care needs,” said Gayle Kvenvold, President and CEO of Aging Services of Minnesota. “We face a looming economic crisis as our population ages. Now is the time to advance real solutions that will protect access and quality of care for all Minnesota seniors and their families.”

At a very high level, four key themes emerged from the poll: 

1.    Minnesotans are not prepared to pay for their care.

2.    Access to quality senior care is a right, not a privilege.

3.    Caregivers (formal and informal/family) need more support and resources.

4.    Minnesotans support reform proposals that will achieve four key outcomes:

  • Improve care for seniors first and foremost
  • Address a looming crisis in our state
  • Improve conditions for caregivers
  • Improve the economy by delivering care more efficiency and strengthening the long-term care workforce

What do you think when you see these numbers? We know Minnesotans want to remain independent for as long as possible as they age, but we also know most won’t be able to pay for the care they need and want.

We’ll continue to post excerpts and additional findings from the Long-Term Care Imperative poll in the coming weeks – stay tuned.

Congratulations to Lisa Kalla, administrator at Johanna Shores – a Presbyterian Homes & Services community in Arden Hills. Lisa was one of nearly 150 amazing caregivers who submitted their stories to the Stars Among Us campaign during the 2012 Aging Services of Minnesota Institute. She is also the lucky winner of an iPad2!

Here’s what Lisa shared about why she is driven to serve Minnesota seniors:

What inspires you to serve?
What inspires me to serve older adults is truly the mutual satisfaction of helping someone. It sounds like a cliche but when you hold the hand of the dementia resident who is scared and see their fear dissolve, you really see you are more than anything a mission statement can describe, you are everything to that person.

Sometimes when we focus on the regulations and reimbursement, it is easy to get discouraged but then you think about how important you are to that one person you may have touched today and it inspires you to go on, to try to change systems, to get back to the reason you entered into this job and be with the residents and realize you being there is what matters most to them…that is what inspires me.

What does a career in older adult services mean to you?
A career serving older adults to me is a career of change. You change with resident acuity, you change with business needs, you change with the uniqueness each resident brings. I love working for a Christian organization that focuses on the residents needs and individual differences.

The most rewarding part of my job is figuring out how to balance excellent care, budget and resident individuality. Learning about resident likes, wants and hobbies and then implementing programs to really enrich the lives of the residents we serve. The most challenging is to see the residents we grow to love decline physically and mentally.

Take a few minutes to read the inspiring stories of caregivers who have dedicated their lives and careers to serving Minnesota’s seniors. These people are changing lives every day and we are so grateful they’ve chosen to share their talent and passion in the field of older adult services.

Submit Your Story Today!
We are still collecting Stars Among Us stories and displaying them in our online gallery – will you add yours to the collection? Aging Services will share these stories with lawmakers, community leaders and other organizations who are working together to support senior care in Minnesota.

Why do you serve older adults?

We all know them – people who go above and beyond. They don’t just do their jobs, they seem to really like their jobs. They go out of their way to make someone else’s day better.

In the field of older adult services, these are not the faces and stories that make the front page of the newspaper – but they should.

So here at Aging Services, we’re trying something new. We created the Stars Among Us campaign to shine a light on the people who are the backbone of our support system for seniors. We want to celebrate the difference you make in the lives of those you serve and the contributions you make in your community.

To participate in the Stars Among Us campaign, simply tell us:

  • What inspires you to serve older adults? Is there a mentor or fellow caregiver who motivates or helps you? What keeps you going on tough days?
  • What does a career serving older adults mean to you? What is the most meaningful or rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?
  • What do you advocate for? What do you want public policy makers to know about the work you do?

Here’s a sneak peak at what we’ve already heard from some amazing caregivers:

  • Georgia Morphew at Northfield Hospital Long-Term Care Center says, “It’s one of those jobs where you need to bring not only your skills, but patience, empathy, kindness, respect, and love. So when they tell you they love your care, you know that is the greatest compliment.”
  • Valerie Heintz at Valley View Healthcare and Rehab says, “Their life stories are history books in the making. I get great pleasure out of learning about our folks, their past lives including the struggles and accomplishments. I find out about them as a person and not just a resident in a bed.”
  • Jenny Weber at Friendship Village in Bloomington says, “Do something that matters. Believe in the future by creating it first.”

If you work in the field of aging in Minnesota – whether you’re a nursing assistant, dietary specialist, housing manager, marketing specialist, administrator, director of nursing, housekeeping specialist – you are a Star Among Us.

The Stars Among Us campaign is for anyone and everyone who has dedicated their career to serving older adults. You do not need to work for an Aging Services of Minnesota member, you just need to proudly serve Minnesota seniors.

For a little added fun, all Stars Among Us entries received by February 10th will be eligible to win a FREE iPad2.

Tell us your story today – and please spread the word.

The Stars Among Us deserve to be in the spotlight, don’t you agree?

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Aging matters to all of us.

This blog will address the issues, questions, challenges and opportunities that surface as we work to meet the demands of an aging population.

It’s also a place to highlight the people and organizations whose passion, creativity and commitment are shaping the future of older adult services in Minnesota.

Everyone has a story about how aging impacts their life – we hope you’ll join the conversation and share your story.

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