Challenges with the Supply and Demand of Long Term Care Workers
The nation is facing a growing problem with the number of long term care workers. This shortage will cause increasing difficulty in finding direct care workers in the coming years. As the life expectancy and aging Baby Boomer population continues to increase, the need for long term care workers will also increase. However, studies show that the number of available workers is on the decline. There are many issues that are contributing to this growing shortage.
Most sources cite low, unattractive wages and minimal benefits as the main cause of the shortage of direct care workers. This is due largely to the lack of Medicaid funding to cover these costs. The long term care providers are unable to improve wages and benefits and this makes it impossible to entice more people to join their workforce. Inadequate funding for better wages is causing more and more people to walk away from direct care jobs. This leaves families with no other alternative, but to spend savings, retirement, or take unpaid leave from work. As a result, people are being forced earlier into nursing homes.
Poor Working Conditions
Poor working conditions has contributed to the shortage of long term care workers. Working as a direct care working can often be a very solitary job. Long term care providers often do not offer adequate support and training for direct care workers. There is little mentoring, coaching, or teamwork present for these direct care workers. They feel overlooked and underappreciated for the skills they have to offer. Additionally, there is often poor supervision and these workers are left feeling that they have no power to change the situation.
Physical and Emotional Stress
Being a direct care worker is a physically and emotionally challenging job. Because of the shortage of workers in this field, direct care workers often work long hours. Caring for an elderly person can be physically taxing as these workers often have to lift, support, and transfer the elderly person who is often unable to support their own weight. Due to a lack of appropriate training, this leads to workplace injury. Caring for an elderly person at the end of life drains a caregiver emotionally. Difficult behavior changes caused by aging and diseases, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s can cause emotional stress for the direct care worker. The person they are caring for may hurl insults and accusations or even attempt to physically harm the caregiver. Without proper support and training, this can cause workers to leave these jobs.
The industry and the government must work together to find viable solutions to these problems or the shortage of long term care workers will continue to increase over the next 10-15 years. Public funding must find ways to improve the disparity in wages. For example, a policy for an increase in Medicaid funding to providers could be given with the expectation that this extra funding be used to increase wages and benefits for direct care workers. Increased wages are important in retaining workers, but benefits also make a difference.
Ways must be found to provide at least basic benefits for direct care workers. Improve training for both managers and supervisors and the direct care workers themselves will bring great strides in improving working conditions. Rewarding long term care providers who improve working conditions and reduce turnover rates may spur creative ideas for dealing with these issues. Providing appropriate and ongoing high-quality training for direct care workers can help to improve working conditions, as well as eliminate some of the emotional and physical stress of the job. This crisis must be dealt with or many will be faced with the inability to find direct care workers to provide for them or for their elderly loved ones.