John O'Connor illustration
McKnight’s Editorial Director John O’Connor
John O'Connor
John O’Connor

Our nation is struggling to address two significant challenges. One concerns too few people. The other, too many.

The first issue is certainly one most senior living operators can relate too. Boiled down, there are simply not enough people willing to do the work that needs to be done.

By some estimates, 96% of assisted living communities are grappling with severe staffing shortages. And by all accounts, the problem is getting worse.

It’s not exactly a secret why this is happening. In an economy where candidates can get better wages for less demanding work elsewhere, we shouldn’t be too surprised when they do exactly that.

Clearly, having more people around to take these thousands of open jobs would be a good thing.

Which brings us to problem No. 2: A humanitarian crisis involving migrants and refugees at our nation’s southern border.

Most are struggling to get past the proverbial front door. But according to recent reports, more than 1 million people have been allowed to enter the United States in recent years, thanks to a parole provision in immigration law. The measure is intended to  aid foreigners fleeing armed conflicts, or political/economic crises in their homelands.

So, what have we learned so far? 1. Senior living has a staffing shortage (OK, we already knew that one). 2. Presumably able-bodied people are piling up at our border, and 3. The United States has been willing to make special immigration accommodations for justifiable reasons in the past.

Based on those realities, I’d like to offer a simple proposal: Create a selective entry program for those at our border. In exchange for a commitment to work in senior living for a given amount of time (say, four years minimum), they and their families gain access to the United States and are fast-tracked for US citizenship.

To be sure, possible challenges and problems would need to be worked out under this kind of arrangement. And there surely would be debate on how best to iron out the thorniest related issues.

But what’s not debatable are two obvious benefits: a larger pool of senior living workers, and border-crisis relief.

Now this may not be the best idea we’ve ever tried. But we have certainly embraced far worse.

John O’Connor is editorial director for McKnight’s Senior Living and its sister media brands, McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, which focuses on skilled nursing, and McKnight’s Home Care. Read more of his columns here.