Portrait of a young nurse

Approximately 4% of direct care workers were displaced during the second quarter of 2020. A year later, few had returned to direct care, according to a new study by PHI and the Health Workforce Research Center on Long-Term Care at the University of California, San Francisco. Further, few displaced workers from other occupations moved into direct care.

Recruitment and retention are major challenges in senior living and care across the board. According to PHI, long-term care employers will need to fill 7.4 million job openings in direct care from 2019 to 2029, including 1.3 million new jobs to meet rising demand and another 6.1 million job openings to replace workers who leave the labor force or transfer to new occupations.

“The fact that few workers who lost jobs during the pandemic moved into open direct care jobs highlights the need to improve direct care jobs so they attract well-skilled and dedicated people to care for people who need their services,” said Joanne Spetz, Ph.D., associate director for research at the Health Workforce Research Center on Long-Term Care at the University of California, San Francisco, and one of the three co-authors of the report detailing study results.

According to the authors, the research “highlights the need to develop tailored recruitment messages that effectively reach workers who have been displaced from or may be seeking employment in those other occupations.

Low wages are a primary reason for the lack of movement into direct care jobs, according to the study. The authors, therefore, suggest that compensation and benefits need to be improved through a combination of changes in Medicaid policy and employer practices. 

“Overall, this research underscores the urgent need to build robust recruitment pipelines into the long-term care field and to make meaningful, lasting improvements in job quality for direct care workers. These strategies are critically needed to grow and stabilize this workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond,” they wrote.