House workforce bill 'good step in right direction' to support care of older adults

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House workforce bill 'good step in right direction' to support care of older adults
House workforce bill 'good step in right direction' to support care of older adults

Provider groups are cheering Monday's passage by the House of Representatives of a bill that would reauthorize federal health professions workforce programs, including education and training in geriatrics.

The Educating Medical Professionals and Optimizing Workforce Efficiency and Readiness (EMPOWER) Act, also known as H.R. 3728, was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions on Tuesday. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate earlier this year.

The House legislation would reauthorize the Geriatric Workforce Enhancement program under which health professions schools can receive grants to integrate geriatrics with primary care training and education, and it also would revive Geriatric Academic Career Awards to support the training of health care professionals who can provide geriatric clinical education. It had been introduced in late 2017 by Rep. Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health.

“The EMPOWER Act is a good step in the right direction in ensuring we have a highly trained workforce in the area of gerontology,” Argentum Chief Operating Officer Maribeth Bersani told McKnight's Senior Living. “Argentum strongly supports the development of a healthcare workforce that maximizes resident and family engagement and improves health outcomes for older adults. The more knowledge primary care and other providers have to care for older adults, including specialized education in the field of Alzheimer's disease and related dementias, the better the outcomes.”

The bill would prioritize grant awards to programs that benefit rural or underserved populations of older people; that train healthcare providers across care settings, including long-term care facilities and home- and community-based services providers; that integrate behavioral health services with primary care; and that train healthcare workers in social determinants of health, said Barbara Gay, LeadingAge's vice president of public policy communications.

“We are especially encouraged that long-term services and supports are specifically mentioned as potential clinical training sites, recognition that long-term services and supports providers too seldom receive,” she said. “By itself, this bill is not the entire answer to our workforce challenges, but it moves us a step closer to effective solutions.”

Gay said LeadingAge was disappointed that the bill's total funding level was $40.7 million, not the $51 million it had been advocating for as part of the Eldercare Workforce Alliance. “We will push for this funding level in the Senate,” she said.

The Geriatrics Workforce Improvement Act (S. 2888), introduced in the Senate in May by Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bob Casey (D-PA), meets that funding goal, reauthorizing the Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program at $45 million per year over the next five years and reinstating the Geriatric Academic Career Awards program at $6 million per year.

“We are hopeful that Sen. Collins' and Casey's bipartisan work and leadership will result in Senate passage of this legislation and a resolution of differences with the House,” Gay said.

Lindsay Schwartz, associate vice president of workforce and quality improvement at the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living, told McKnight's Senior Living that AHCA/NCAL is “pleased to see both the House and the Senate focusing on this critical issue.”

“Investing in geriatric workforce programs means investing in the high-quality care for our nation's seniors,” she added. “They encourage more individuals to pursue a career in long-term care and to be uniquely trained to needs of the elderly.”

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