April 17, 2024

Bill promises ‘generational investment’ in senior living and care workforce

McKnights Senior Living

Proposed federal legislation would make a “generational investment” in the senior living and care workforce at a time when the aging population is growing exponentially and an increasing number of older adults are living with chronic conditions and disabilities, according to its sponsors.

The Long-Term Care Workforce Support Act, introduced by Democrats, was met with mixed reviews from senior living industry advocates on Tuesday, however.

US Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, called direct care workers the “backbone” for long-term services and supports and said they are “irreplaceable” and “essential” during a Tuesday committee hearing focused on long-term care workforce shortages.

“Here is the bottom line — if we claim that their work as caregivers is essential, we should accord them the status of a professional,” Casey said in introducing the bill, S 4120, co-sponsored by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). “By professionalizing and supporting the long-term care workforce, we can better recruit and retain professionals in this vital field.”

Casey said the bill would ensure that caregiving can be a sustainable, lifelong career by providing “substantial” new funding to support workers in every part of the long-term care industry, from assisted living communities to nursing homes to home care. Specifically, he said, the bill would provide pathways to enter the care workforce, improve wages and benefits, ensure a respectful and safe working environment, and introduce best practices on recruitment as well as training strategies to promote retention.

Pointing to a PHI report, Casey noted that caregivers earn a median wage of $15.43 per hour, resulting in almost 70% of assisted living communities and 92% of nursing homes reporting significant or severe workforce shortages. 

US Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives, HR 7994, calling caregiving the “foundation of our economy” that allows for all other work to be possible.

“No care workers should have to live below the poverty line to do this work that millions of Americans depend on,” Dingell said in a statement. “This legislation will make much-needed investments in our care infrastructure and workforce, including family caregivers, to ensure they have the support they need, are paid a living wage, and are able to continue doing their critical jobs.”

‘Time is of the essence’

Provider advocates had varying responses to the bill.

Argentum said it appreciated recognition of the workforce shortages and potential resources to address it but added that “time is of the essence,” with the need to create more than 3 million new jobs in senior living by 2040 to care for a rapidly aging population.

Argentum Senior Vice President of Public Policy Maggie Elehwany said that workforce issues have been one of the few areas of bipartisan agreement in the 118th Congress, with multiple congressional hearings and calls from both sides of the aisle to “stem the exodus of healthcare workers.” 

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