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Local View: Minnesotans with incontinence pay price for St. Paul gridlock

For most of my career, I've focused on serving my community as a caregiver. For the past 22 years, I have been a nurse specializing in geriatric patients, many of them in long-term care.

Michelle ReynoldsWhen I saw a political threat to my patients this spring, I thought I had to do something.

The issue involved a serious condition that most people don't like talking about: incontinence. More than 25 million Americans suffer from incontinence problems. Whether you know it or not, you know someone who suffers from this condition. With high-quality incontinence products, patients can live normal, active lives. Without these products, however, patients can become homebound due to embarrassment or fear.

During last year's budget negotiations, the Minnesota Legislature and the state Department of Human Services agreed to change how the department purchases incontinence products, including forcing all providers to purchase from a single monopoly distributor. When I learned this, I was deeply concerned the program would make it impossible for my patients to get the high-quality products they needed from suppliers they trusted. I decided I needed to do something, so I wrote a commentary in the News Tribune to express my opinion that fixing this issue was critical.

The good news is the Legislature quickly realized the problems with the monopoly-creating incontinence distributor program and decided to act. A bipartisan coalition of legislators — including Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake; Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kettle River; Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka; Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River; and Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul — fought to repeal this program and prevent it from ever being implemented. After hearing from health care and disability advocates, Gov. Mark Dayton also decided to support the repeal.

The repeal was included in the spending bill passed by the Legislature last month. I thought our political leaders had done the right thing and that this threat to my patients was behind us.

Little did I know the battle was just beginning. Gov. Dayton's decision to veto the Legislature's tax and spending bills not only prevented a tax cut he opposed but ended many uncontroversial bipartisan initiatives. Repealing the incontinence monopoly distributor program before it was implemented was one of those initiatives. Now, the Department of Human Services appears poised to move forward with the program.

Perhaps it's because I've never been very politically engaged, but it seems crazy to me that this program may get implemented despite widespread opposition from caregivers, legislators from both parties, and even the governor. That a harmful program can move forward despite widespread opposition from political leaders is a perfect example of why people distrust the government.

And the Department of Human Services, which proposed this bad law in the first place, seems to be rushing implementation instead of looking for ways to slow things down until the Legislature has another chance to repeal. This seems an amazing abuse of power. This is another reason why people don't trust the government.

I understand the governor felt he was doing the right thing by vetoing the Republican tax and spending bills; but now that the bills have been vetoed, the governor needs to act quickly to minimize the damage being done to some of Minnesota's most-vulnerable citizens. I'm not a lawyer, but there must be a way for the governor to prevent this dangerous program from taking effect.

It's not fair for patients to have to pay the consequences for gridlock in St. Paul.

Michelle Reynolds is the director of nursing at Keystone Bluffs Assisted Living in Duluth.

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