Eldercare Workforce Alliance Unanimously Supports “The Retooling the Health Care Workforce for an Aging America Act”
April 30, 2009
Bill Would Train Eldercare Workforce and Family Members to Meet Seniors’ Unique Care Needs
Washington, DC -- The Eldercare Workforce Alliance (EWA) -- a coalition of 28 national organizations representing older adults and the healthcare professionals, direct-care workers, and family caregivers who care for them -- has unanimously endorsed “The Retooling the Healthcare Workforce for An Aging America Act.”
This essential legislation, proposed by Sens. Herb Kohl (D-WI), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Bob Casey (D-PA), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), would help address the serious and growing nationwide shortage of physicians, nurses, other healthcare professionals, and direct-care workers trained to meet the unique healthcare needs of older Americans. The legislation would also better prepare family caregivers to care for their aging loved ones.
“There is a huge shortfall of health care workers who are properly trained to care for older Americans—one that will worsen as our country ages if we do not take immediate action. The United States will not be able to meet the approaching demand for health care and long-term care without a workforce that is prepared for the job,” said Sen. Kohl, chairman of the Special Committee on Aging. “I look forward to working with Senate Finance and HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) committee leaders to make sure healthcare reform includes provisions that will offer better education and training in geriatrics, chronic care management, and long-term care to licensed practitioners, direct care workers, and family caregivers.”
Among other things, The Retooling the Healthcare Workforce for An Aging America Act would expand geriatrics training for medical school and other health professions faculty and for physicians, nurses, social workers, clinical psychologists, and other allied health professionals. It would also expand training for nurses' aides, home health aides and other direct-care workers, as well as family caregivers who provide the majority of daily, hands-on care for millions of older Americans.
“Ensuring that the eldercare workforce is adequately prepared to meet the healthcare needs of the rapidly growing number of older adults in the U.S. is an essential element of healthcare reform,” said Steven L. Dawson, President of PHI who co-convenes the Alliance with Nancy Lundebjerg, Deputy EVP and Chief Operating Officer of the American Geriatrics Society (AGS). “We encourage the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions to incorporate the policy recommendations in this bill into its work on health care reform.”
The Alliance, supported by grants from The Atlantic Philanthropies and The John A. Hartford Foundation, and member contributions, was established earlier this year in direct response to the Institute of Medicine’s groundbreaking 2008 report, Retooling for an Aging America: Building the Health Care Workforce. The report concluded that America's eldercare workforce is ill-prepared to care for the rapidly growing number of older adults in the U.S. There are already serious shortfalls of healthcare professionals and direct-care workers trained to care for older people in this country, and the number of Americans 65 and older is expected to nearly double, to 77 million, over the next two decades.
Just as children have healthcare needs that differ from those of adults, older adults have care needs that differ from those of younger adults: Older adults often have multiple chronic health problems that complicate care because treatment for one condition may exacerbate another, and because multiple medications can cause multiple side effects and interact in potentially hazardous ways. Physicians and healthcare professionals from other disciplines, such as pharmacy, nursing, and social work, who have advanced training in elder care, often work together as a coordinated team to care for complex older patients with multiple chronic conditions. Some research suggests that this kind of coordinated, care, when done well, not only improves outcomes, but also saves money.
“Given that Medicare spending us expected to top $425 billion this year, and that the 10 percent of Medicare beneficiaries with multiple chronic conditions account for two-thirds of Medicare spending, legislation such as The Retooling the Healthcare Workforce for An Aging America Act can both help improve the health and lives of older Americans, and rein in healthcare spending, said Ms. Lundebjerg of AGS.
The EWA strongly supports provisions in "The Retooling the Healthcare Workforce for An Aging America Act" that would:
• Expand funding for the nation's Geriatric Education Centers (GECs) to enable the GECs to offer short-term intensive courses (mini-fellowships) in geriatrics, chronic care management and long-term care to faculty members of medical schools and other health professions schools. Under the act, GECs receiving these grants would be required either to develop and offer training courses for direct care workers and family caregivers, or to incorporate mental health and dementia "best practices" training into most of their courses.
• Expand the Geriatric Academic Career Awards (GACA) training program to include junior faculty in nursing, social work, clinical psychology, and other allied health fields. The awards currently support the career development of junior medical school faculty pursuing academic careers in geriatrics.
• Authorize a new Geriatric Career Incentive Awards (GCIA) program providing financial support for Masters-level clinical social workers and psychologists interested in pursuing doctorates or other advanced degrees in geriatrics
• Expand the Nursing Comprehensive Geriatric Education Program to support additional training in geriatrics for nurses and nursing faculty.
• Offer tuition stipends for direct care workers in long-term care to enable them to earn nursing degrees
• Develop online training for informal caregivers
“Our nation’s seniors face a dual health care crisis: rising out-of-pocket expenses and dwindling numbers of healthcare professionals,” said Rep. Schakowsky. “Our legislation will reverse the shortage of licensed healthcare professionals and give parents and grandparents the care they need and deserve. As our country’s population ages rapidly, we must make sure that every one of our seniors has access to quality care that meets their specific health care needs and allows them to age with dignity and grace.”