Rural Minnesota is undergoing major shifts in demographics, especially in the aging population. While 30 percent of the state’s total population lives in rural Minnesota, 41 percent of those 65 and older currently live there.

With this increase in the senior population in rural areas of Minnesota, such as Douglas County, the demand for health care professionals is rapidly growing as well. Having a shortage of this labor, however, is proving to be a common challenge.

Ecumen Bethany Community in Alexandria has been trying to take proactive measures in attracting new applicants during the workforce shortage. On Wednesday, April 29, the staff hosted an Employment Open House in hopes to fill the needs they currently have in staffing.

“We’re in the process of rolling out a new staffing pattern, which creates more openings,” said Rachel Primus, the hiring and staffing specialist at Bethany. “There are currently roughly 20 openings.”

The new staffing pattern is one of the creative ways staff at Bethany is using to attract more employees. The pattern includes weekend-only positions to accommodate stay-at-home parents, flexible hours to work easily around employees still in school, and rotating weekend shifts every three weeks.

“This generation is different,” explained Ashlie Bradley, the human resources director at Bethany. “People have a strong core-family value that we need to embrace.”

The biggest needs in staff that Bethany is currently facing are nursing assistants and licensed practical nurses (LPNs). Bradley and Primus agree that a big reason for the high turnover rate in those two positions is that people are going on to the next level, becoming registered nurses and receiving higher pay.

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The shortage in health care professionals in rural areas has not gone unnoticed by Minnesota legislators. In early January, members of U.S. Senator Al Franken’s staff stopped in Alexandria as a part of his Rural Health Tour to discuss the unique health care challenges facing areas like Douglas County.

A variety of solutions were suggested to improve the health care system in rural areas. These included expanding nursing and medical programs in college, long-term care insurance education, and refiguring the payment structure for seniors’ living costs on which the government currently operates.

The Rural Health Tour will assist in Sen. Franken’s efforts to press bipartisan legislation to support rural health care delivery systems and to provide innovative, sustainable health care solutions for patients in rural America during 2015 congressional sessions.

For now, the staff at Bethany encourages all Minnesotans to talk to their legislators about the need for improvement in how health care workers are paid and benefited so that the older generation is properly cared for.

“Taking care of seniors needs to be an important part of society,” Bradley stated. “Seniors are our most vulnerable but most honorable people in the country.”