Hiring crisis in aging services deserves attention – Daily Inter Lake

When older Americans need quality care and services that empower them to remain independent, safe, and healthy, too many are being faced with unnecessary challenges.

As a care provider for older adults at Immanuel Lutheran Communities in Kalispell, I continually witness the longstanding and severe workforce shortages that are facing aging services every day. These shortages, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, have made long-term care services unavailable to many older adults in need.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 229,000 professional caregivers have left the aging services sector since February 2020, and more than 60 percent of nursing homes nationwide are limiting new admissions due to staffing shortages. Here in Montana, the situation is completely unsustainable, and we are continually seeing nursing homes and other aging services providers closing their doors simply because we can’t serve our older adult population without qualified and licensed staff to provide support and care to our resident population.

Since 2015, 1,000 nursing homes nationwide have closed leaving over 45,000 residents displaced. More than 400 nursing homes are expecting to close this year nationally, with seven of them being in Montana. This is a loss of 366 nursing home beds in the state, and one of these five closures will leave Bozeman, one of the largest cities in the state, with only 69 beds to serve their older adult population. These closures will put a tremendous strain on the remaining nursing homes in Montana and in the nation, and closures from rural areas would displace residents to other parts of the state, making it very difficult for families to visit due to distance.

Unfortunately, this is not a new issue and without immediate attention and resources, this crisis will only deepen. The Biden Administration has publicly committed to ensuring the health and safety of older adults, yet there are currently no federal plans to alleviate the workforce crisis in aging services.

Many nonprofit and mission-driven aging services providers like Immanuel Lutheran Communities are forced to make difficult decisions about the future of our organizations, as similar organizations in communities across the country are closing their doors permanently. A recent snap poll from LeadingAge, the national nonprofit association of aging services providers, including nursing homes, home health, hospice, affordable housing, and life plan communities, paints a bleak picture. More than 60% of respondents reported their workforce difficulties are not improving, and 52 percent of the employees that have left their organization intended to leave the aging services sector altogether.

The solutions to our workforce challenges in aging services are complex. Our country — and Montana in particular — requires an all-of-government approach to pay aging services professionals a living wage; offer incentives to retain and attract qualified staff; expand training and advancement opportunities; build dependable international pipelines of trained caregivers; and enact meaningful, equitable long-term care financing. The path to achieving that must include not just regulation, but also an adequate system of funding, investments, and policy that address the workforce crisis.

It may be easy to throw our hands up and say, “Nothing can be done.” But Montana policymakers can make an immediate impact by acting now to ensure quality care and services are accessible when your family needs them. If the DPHHS can find the necessary $millions now to address the mismanaged State hospital, they can find the necessary dollars to help our Montana nursing homes who care for our most vulnerable.

We just need the political will to make it happen now.

Jason Cronk is the President and CEO of Immanuel Lutheran Communities, a full-service Life Plan Community in Kalispell. He serves as the Leading Age Advocate for Montana as a member of the Montana Hospital Association Board of Directors.

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