Return to Community initiative recognized as 2017 Harvard “Bright Idea in Government”

January 20, 2017

Minnesota program helps older adults return home after nursing facility stay

The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, recognized Minnesota’s Return to Community program as part of the 2017 Bright Ideas in Government initiative.

Since its start in 2010, Return to Community has helped more than 4,000 older Minnesotans return to their homes following a nursing home stay. It is among a group of programs from all levels of government — school districts, county, city, state, federal agencies, and tribal nations, as well as public-private partnerships — that “represent the next horizon in government work to improve services, solve problems, and work on behalf of citizens,” according to the Ash Center.

In Minnesota, 70 percent of people admitted to a nursing home for rehabilitation leave within 30 days and do not become long-term residents. The remaining 30 percent end up staying for a variety of reasons and spend their savings on care that could be preserved for helping them remain at home. Nursing home care is expensive — costing an average of $180 per day — and is paid for with Medicare or private insurance on a limited basis. Many nursing home residents ultimately deplete their personal assets on care and become eligible for Medical Assistance. Reducing the amount of time they spend in a nursing home leaves more money in their pockets and reduces the need for public spending.

“Return to Community honors the wish most older adults have to remain in their home for as long as possible,” said Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper. “After injury or illness, it can be challenging to make that happen but Senior LinkAge community living specialists throughout Minnesota help older adults and their families get the resources they need to stay home. This not only helps families but is good for taxpayers.”

The 2009 Legislature approved the Return to Community program, which was implemented in 2010 by the Minnesota Board on Aging and Department of Human Services. Return to Community uses known successful interventions, follow-up strategies and caregiver supports to help seniors successfully discharge. The design was developed in partnership with the nursing home industry and policy staff. The service starts by generating a list of candidates. After calls are made and permissions given, assessments are completed, discharge plans are confirmed and services are arranged for patients. Community living specialists support the entire process, including a five-year follow-up period for each patient upon their return home.

Return to Community is among 70 award winners selected from 500 nominations. It is in the fifth cohort recognized through the Bright Ideas program, an initiative of the broader Innovations in American Government Awards program. For consideration as a Bright Idea, programs must currently be in operation or in the process of launching, have sufficient operational resources and must be administered by one or more governmental entities. Nonprofit, private sector and union initiatives are eligible if operating in partnership with a governmental organization. Bright Ideas are showcased on the Ash Center’s Government Innovators Network, an online platform for practitioners and policymakers to share innovative public policy solutions.

“These programs demonstrate that there are no prerequisites for doing the good work of governing,” said Stephen Goldsmith, director of the Innovations in American Government Program at the Ash Center. “Small towns and massive cities, huge federal agencies and local school districts, large budgets or no budgets at all — what makes government work best is the drive to do better, and this group proves that drive can be found anywhere.”

The full list of Bright Ideas programs and more information about the Innovations in American Government Awards are at Stories of Return to Community participants are featured in videos on the Minnesota Board on Aging’s website.

About the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation

The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation advances excellence in governance and strengthens democratic institutions worldwide. Through its research, education, international programs, and government innovations awards, the Center fosters creative and effective government problem solving and serves as a catalyst for addressing many of the most pressing needs of the world’s citizens. For more information, visit