The long-term care industry is currently facing a dangerous worker shortage crisis. Even though the high demand for at-home personal aides and nursing home caregivers, not enough people are pursuing a career in long-term care.
According to estimates, by the year 2030, there will be a shortage of 151,000 direct care workers, and at least 3.8 million family caregivers will be underpaid. This gap in the special care workforce is expected to increase exponentially to 355,000 by 2040.
Due to the worker shortage in long-term care, many sick and longer-living seniors are edged out to live their golden years in their homes — shifting the caregiving burden on close family members. Moreover, those who choose to work in assisted-living facilities and nursing homes are forced to provide care beyond their capacity. And as the workforce is spread thin, many residents have been reporting cases of neglect.
Quality of Care Being Impacted
For example, an outbreak of COVID-19 happened at the Hammonton Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare in New Jersey earlier this year. Many of those residents have reported that they weren't able to receive proper care.
Needless to say, the current global health crisis has further exposed and worsened the staffing shortage problem in long-term care. Overwhelmed workers have had to spread themselves thin, creating a lapse in care. Sadly, 39 residents succumbed to the virus, and at least 238 were infected during the Hammonton outbreak.
To explain why a shortage in long-term care workers exists, we should look at the industry's challenges. Many nursing home assistants and home care workers who provide hands-on long-term care in this country suffer from low wages, insufficient benefits, and non-existent career advancement opportunities. As such, many don't find the worth in learning and staying in this unsafe and difficult profession.
Policy Solutions Could Help Attract Caregivers
Additionally, the lack of proper policy solutions to help stabilize occupations in the long-term care industry can also be blamed for this workforce gap. Many note that the policies for long-term care workers should be reformed to include higher wages, access to benefits, and health insurance, as well as overtime protections. However, the current administration is focused on other issues — and national health care arrangements like Medicaid, which cover the costs of sustaining direct care workers, haven't been prioritized.
While addressing this issue on the legislative level can alleviate the shortage to a certain extent, other industries have developed creative solutions to assist long-term care providers. For instance, companies involved in robotics have looked into creating robots that can perform many types of nursing services. However, the technology is still in its early stages and needs years of research and testing before being deployed.
Moreover, education leaders have recognized the need for direct care workers and have subsequently focused on educating the next batch of long-term care workers, particularly in nursing. Today's schools have begun branching out to online learning to entice even more students to begin their careers in the long-term care sector.
Online nursing degree programs at a bachelor's, master's, and doctoral level provide students with the opportunity to take up adult-gerontology, pediatric nursing, psychiatric and mental health nursing, and more. It's clear that nurses are needed now more than ever, and distance learning can definitely help create more and more trained professionals ready to take up the mantle.
Unfortunately, nurse education has been riddled with problems in recent years. These problems are partly due to the lack of qualified nursing teachers, as better pay for working nurses in the field has lured away nursing instructors from teaching. In fact, nurse practitioners enjoy an average salary of $97,000, while nursing school assistant professors only an annual average of $78,575. Because of this, many educational institutions have struggled to accommodate interested students and have even turned away a huge number of qualified applicants.
Ultimately, the lack of long-term care workers can only be fulfilled by combining solutions, including policy reforms, a focus on training and education, and pushing for better pay. As more and more people join the aging population in the country, the demand for long-term care workers will continue to rise — and we need to push our chief policymakers to do something about it now.
About the Author
Jena Bessey is a long-time writer, short-time freelancer. After quitting her desk job to pursue opportunities on her own, she's found that in the solace of working in her own home, she gets more done. It's a plus that she gets to bask in the presence of her 2 beloved dogs, and 3 cats who she shares a passionate love-hate relationship with.
Contributor since December 3rd, 2019
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