Several workforce issues were part of President Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday — as well as long-term care industry reaction to the speech. The talk comes at a time when long-term care is at a “crossroads,” one industry executive said afterward.

Nursing homes, home care and older adults in general were included in Biden’s second such speech since taking office. Mentioning a point of last year’s address, the president said that the government is “protecting seniors’ lives and life savings by cracking down on nursing homes that commit fraud, endanger patient safety or prescribe drugs they don’t need.”

In response on Wednesday, Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living, told the McKnight’s Business Daily that nursing homes “are committed to enhancing care for residents and adhering to government requirements. Let’s continue to build upon our progress by working together to address current challenges within the sector, like underfunding and workforce.”

Workforce issues were a theme that the president returned to often.

The commander-in-chief called on the nation’s leaders to pass legislation “to get seniors and people with disabilities the home care services they need and support the workers who are doing God’s work.”

Argentum President and CEO James Balda said he was thankful for the remark from the president but that “Congress needs to act now to resolve the twin challenges facing senior living communities and older Americans — an acute shortage of caregivers and affordability of care.”

Since the pandemic started, Balda said, senior living providers have lost more than 100,000 caregivers, resulting in 96% of senior communities facing staff shortages and 61% concerned that the staffing shortages might force them to close.

Balda said that Argentum supports the SENIOR Act, introduced in the House last year, “as a strong example of how current federal workforce programs can help alleviate this crisis significantly” and said that the Expanding Veterans’ Options for Long-Term Care Act supports the president’s stated goal of addressing veterans’ issues by helping veterans access assisted living as a long-term care option. The CEO called on Congress to take up and pass both pieces of legislation this year.

The president’s speech comes as aging services providers are at a “crossroads,” LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan said in a statement after the address.

“The critical policy decisions we make today will decide if we’re moving toward a more equitable future for all as we grow older. As the COVID public health emergency comes to an end, our government must prioritize action to ensure that older adults, their families and millions of professional caregivers have the support they need,” she added.

In addition to staffing, reimbursement is another key issue affecting providers, Sloan said. 

Workforce issues

The president also encouraged Congress to pass bills aimed at paid family and medical leave, as well as immigration reform. And he called for an end to noncompete agreements. Approximately 20% of American workers, or 30 million people, are bound by such clauses, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

“We’re banning those agreements so companies have to compete for workers and pay them what they’re worth,” Biden said.

Regarding unions, he said, “Pass the PRO Act, because workers have a right to form a union. And let’s guarantee all workers a living wage.”

The president vowed to keep Social Security and Medicare safe from cuts as Congress looks for ways to reduce spending after reaching the $31.4 trillion debt limit last month.

“Social Security and Medicare are a lifeline for millions of seniors. Americans have been paying into them with every single paycheck since they started working,” Biden said. “Those benefits belong to the American people. They earned them.” 

“If anyone tries to cut Social Security, I will stop them. And if anyone tries to cut Medicare, I will stop them,” he added.

For additional coverage of the State of the Union address, see McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.