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Many people enter the field of long-term care “accidentally,” writes Dr. Robyn Stone in a new book from the Russell-Sage Foundation that explores Universal Coverage of Long-Term Care in the United States.
Nurses may move to long-term care after becoming burned out in another health care sector. Physicians may become part-time medical directors because it appears to be a convenient and less-then-demanding sideline. Direct care workers may view their long-term care jobs as stepping stones to other occupations.
Stone, who is executive director of the LeadingAge Center for Applied Research, uses her chapter on “The Long-Term Care Workforce: From Accidental to Valued Profession” to suggest that it’s time to change these attitudes.
“We must shift the perception of work in long-term care from an accidental occupation to one which is attractive, rewarding and valued by society,” she writes.
Stone’s chapter echoes widespread concerns that the caregiving workforce will not be prepared to meet the future demand for long-term care from a growing older population. A variety of factors will make it difficult to recruit and retain competent licensed and direct care workers who will manage, supervise and deliver needed services, she says. Those factors include:
Unless we address workforce challenges promptly, warns Stone, the nation will face a number of troubling outcomes. Consumers will have an increasingly difficult time accessing needed care. High retention rates will cause labor costs to rise sharply and will overburden the existing workforce. Inadequate training will eventually compromise quality of care.
Stone suggests three areas for immediate action:
Stone ends her chapter on a positive note. After 20 years of debate about how to reform long-term care, the development of its workforce is finally beginning to receive the attention it deserves, she writes.
In a separate interview with the Russell-Sage Foundation, Stone refers to several initiatives that are currently addressing workforce challenges, including provisions in the Affordable Care Act that support the development and dissemination of competency-based training curricula.
These steps are encouraging, says Stone, but they are not enough.
“Much more is needed if we are really committed to a competent, stable workforce that is essential for the delivery of quality care today and in the future,” she says.