February 17, 2023

Long-term care workforce shortages worst in all of healthcare, provider groups say as Senate committee explores issue

McKnight Senior Living

Healthcare workforce shortages were front and center at Thursday’s Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing, and senior living industry advocates made their voices heard through submitted testimony or public statements.

Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT) promised “a lot more future discussions. But talk and hearings are not good enough. The American people want this committee to produce some serious legislation that address these crises, and that is exactly what we must do.”

Although the hearing focused primarily on physician, nurse, dental and mental healthcare workforce shortages, in prepared remarks, Sanders said: “Our committee must also grapple with broader healthcare workforce challenges. Pharmacies across the country are having trouble hiring pharmacists. We don’t have enough home healthcare workers. We don’t have enough nursing home staff, etc., etc.”

Maggie Elehwany, Argentum senior vice president of public affairs, said that Argentum will submit comments about how the shortages in the long-term care industry will “eclipse” those in all other healthcare sectors.

Elehwany said there is a shortage of 400,000 caregivers for older adults and that the number will continue to increase. By 2040, the sector will need more than 20 million workers to care for the nation’s older adults, she said. Today, 96% of senior living communities are facing staffing shortages, and 61% are concerned that those shortages may force closures, Elehwany said.

“In the long-term care sector, shortages in the senior care workforce are objectively the most acute,” Elehwany said, adding that the senior living industry lost more than 100,000 workers between February 2020 and November 2021. “While the hospital and home healthcare sectors are closer to returning to pre-pandemic employment, the senior living workforce is presently at its lowest levels since 2015.”

The challenge isn’t just finding enough caregivers to meet current needs but to meet the anticipated demand for care in the future, she said, adding that every day, 10,000 people turn 65, with estimates that 70% of those individuals will need some form of care in the future.

Elehwany called Thursday’s hearing an “important first step.”

“It is my hope that the committee will hold additional hearings to specifically examine the senior living workforce shortages and policies to expand and retain our caregivers,” she said. “The senior living workforce is at a crisis level now, but if policymakers fail to act, by 2040 it will become a catastrophic crisis that eclipses all other healthcare provider shortages.”

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