close up of money and part of a flag

To reverse its ongoing staffing crisis, the long-term care sector is going to need heftier financial support than the Senate is proposing for 2023, industry advocate LeadingAge said Thursday.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on July 28 released its 2023 Labor-Health and Human Services (Labor-HHS) appropriations bill. The legislation, awaiting House input, would allocate $3.2 billion to the nursing workforce development program, an increase of $38 million. LeadingAge praised this figure, but by comparison, the amount proposed for the Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program doesn’t go far enough, the organization said. 

The GWEP includes primary care training and partnerships programs that address gaps in senior healthcare. The bill would add $2 million to that program’s funding in 2023, for a total of $47,245,000.

“[That’s] far too low to ensure that the country has the skilled aging services workforce and well-supported family caregivers needed to meet the complex needs of older adults,” LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan said, in a statement.

Attracting, retaining staff

LeadingAge on July 20 hosted a congressional briefing during which it presented the stark realities of the current long-term care staffing shortage to legislators. It urged action on key labor issues as part of its newly launched Aging Services Workforce Now advocacy campaign

One of its key requests is support for paying workers a living wage. The campaign also asks for funding for incentives to retain and attract staff, expanded training and advancement opportunities, international pipelines of trained caregivers and “meaningful, equitable long-term care financing.”

“It’s critical that Congress acknowledge the need to invest in direct care professionals and the entire aging services workforce, given the severe staffing crisis in the sector,” Sloan said. “This bill demonstrates that recognition by the Senate, but the needs are vast and we hope legislators can do even more.”

House version similar

LeadingAge and fellow senior living advocate Argentum generally praised the House’s appropriations bill when it came out about a month ago. It also puts GWEP funding at $48 million.

“On workforce alone, this appropriations outline will help bring more people into the profession where staffing challenges have affected communities far and wide,” Argentum President and CEO James Balda said at the time. “More seniors will need assisted care than ever before, but Argentum projects that the workforce shortages in the near future will be at catastrophic levels if more is not done.”

Along with urging federal investment in the senior living workforce shortage crisis, the association has backed the SENIOR Act (H.R. 6530), which would increase investment in existing Health and Human Services workforce development programs through $1.25 billion in new four-year grants to help develop a geriatric care workforce.

LeadingAge, meanwhile, is attempting to spread greater public awareness of those needs as part of its  Keep Leading Life campaign.

“Families and older adults are directly impacted when we don’t have the policy support we need to address the needs of a rapidly growing population,” Sloan said at a May advocacy event. “We can do better. We must do better.”