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A coalition of senior living advocacy groups is calling on congressional leaders to build and train the workforce needed now — and into the future — to care for the nation’s rapidly growing aging population.

Argentum, the American Seniors Housing Association and LeadingAge sent letters to Capitol Hill and the House 21st Century Long-Term Care Caucus with proposed solutions to stem the workforce shortage in senior living, with a focus on immigration, federal workforce development programs and tax incentives for both workers and employers.

In the letters, the organizations recounted how long-term care providers lost more than 100,000 caregivers in the first 20 months of the pandemic, a decline of more than 10% from pre-pandemic employment levels. 

The coalition specifically called for Congress to:

  • Add to federal incentives to allow providers to retain and attract qualified staff members;
  • Increase existing federal workforce funding allocations to states, prioritizing long-term care;
  • Fund career pathway opportunities in senior living and geriatric care in academic settings;
  • Expand and incentivize the registered apprenticeship programs to develop career pathways for providers, and implement grant programs within stakeholder partnerships; and
  • Enact commonsense immigration programs that build international pipelines of trained caregivers.

“The lead-up to the midterm elections is the ideal time to bring attention to the senior living workforce crisis, which has only been exacerbated by the pandemic,” Argentum Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Maggie Elehwany said, adding that “commonsense immigration discussions” are necessary to alleviate workforce shortages across the continuum.

The coalition’s effort follows collective ones over the past several months by the associations to “sound the alarm” on the workforce crisis. 

“We are developing legislation to transform and retool current federal policies that could significantly alleviate the crisis with proper federal investment,” Elehwany said.

Workforce problems are not going away

The workforce shortage in the senior living industry is “highly problematic” and likely to be long-lasting without intervention, ASHA President and CEO David Schess said.

“It is vital that the senior living industry advocate for not only the needs of the senior living industry but for the growing number of older adults who will need our care in the future,“ Schless told McKnight’s Senior Living.“We must have the tools to ensure that an adequate workforce is in place and available to provide needed caregiving and supportive services. We need the tools to enhance workforce training and development, but without people, there will be no one to train.”

More than 20 non-immigrant visa categories exist, but none are well-suited for the caregiver, dietary aid, medical technician and other critical positions in the senior living industry, he said. The immigration system, Schless added, is long overdue for reform to allow senior living employers access to foreign workers who want to come to the United States to care for older adults.

“We are also urging the administration to accelerate the process for work authorizations so that refugees, asylees or those granted temporary protected status can more quickly receive Ashlee’s permits,” Schless said. “Having access to these workers can help mitigate the current shortfall in our industry.”

Time to ‘take action’

LeadingAge, which just wrapped up its Annual Meeting + Expo, highlighted workforce issues in its education sessions, calling it a critical issue across the care continuum. President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan called on Congress to “do your part — take action!”

“Older adults and families cannot access the care and services they need due to workforce challenges across the aging services sector — in nursing homes, home health and home care, and in senior living communities,” Sloan told McKnight’s Senior Living. “Demographics are such that demand for help will increase. More workers are needed in our sector, and to get them here, an all-of-government approach is needed.”