Building the Nation’s Infrastructure One CNA at a Time

Workforce | July 14, 2017 | by Stephen Maag

Rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure doesn’t just mean fixing bridges and roads. It also means investing in the aging services workforce. LeadingAge members should send that message to policy makers, writes Steve Maag, director of residential communities.

I travel a lot for LeadingAge. Have for years.

With thousands of miles under my belt, I’ve come to see myself as an expert on this country’s crumbling infrastructure.

I’ve flown in and out of many airports that didn’t exactly feel like home. I’ve driven over scores of bridges that have seen better days. I’ve maneuvered rental cars around more potholes than I can count.

So when politicians start talking about repairing our nation’s infrastructure, I nod my head enthusiastically.

Now I’m wondering if I’ve got this all wrong.

When I think about the nation’s infrastructure, I think about its physical structures. But a recent report from the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality (GCPI) made me think again.

The report, which comes from GCPI’s Economic Security and Opportunity Initiative, suggests that building new bridges and highways isn’t the only way to strengthen the U.S. infrastructure. That’s an important goal, but it’s way too narrow.

We’d be much better off, says the report, if we targeted the nation’s infrastructure investments to building up the caring economy.

Let’s make infrastructure-like investments in recruiting and retaining certified nursing assistants (CNA), home health aides, and other workers who care for older adults, says the report. Do that, and we’ll be able to address 2 pressing national needs:

  • The need for caregiving; and
  • The need for good jobs.

What’s Good for Caregivers is Good for America

I spend so much time in airports and rental cars because my job revolves around talking with LeadingAge members at national and state conferences, and in residential communities around the country.

Over the last year, I’ve been hearing the same message no matter where I go or who I’m with: building up the caregiving workforce is the biggest and most challenging issue facing providers of long-term services and supports (LTSS).

Everyone I talk to—from CEOs and executive directors, to board chairs and human resources professionals—tells me the same thing.

No one I meet has the definitive solution for recruiting and retaining qualified workers. Most are looking for strategies that have been proven to work elsewhere. All are growing increasingly concerned about our ability to meet the escalating need for services and supports among a rapidly growing older population.

In light of these concerns, I thought Building the Caring Economy: Workforce Investments to Expand Access to Affordable, High-Quality Early and Long-Term Care provided a welcome new twist on an older problem. I strongly recommend you read it.

Basically, the report suggests that strengthening the caring economy can also strengthen the country’s economy. Investing in the workers who provide services and supports in homes and care settings around the country can:

  • Generate twice as many jobs per dollar as infrastructure construction.
  • Increase employment both by creating jobs, and allowing family caregivers to seek and maintain their own employment.
  • Strengthen families and communities.

The report does a good job of explaining why the nation should be investing in jobs within our sector. It recommends that we accomplish this goal by expanding public financing for LTSS, increasing wages, expanding self-direction, limiting costs, and using workforce development strategies to promote worker recruitment, retention, and economic mobility.

Building LeadingAge’s Workforce Infrastructure

These are all great ideas for building the workforce infrastructure.

LeadingAge has one more.

Over the past year, we’ve been developing our own infrastructure to help members address their workforce challenges. That infrastructure includes the new LeadingAge Center for Workforce Solutions, which is directed by Susan Hildebrandt, our new vice president of workforce initiatives.

Our goal is to make this center a “one-stop shop” where you can find all the information you need to address your workforce challenges. I hope you’ll take advantage of its resources.

Telling Our Compelling Story

Viewing LTSS workers as an integral part of the American infrastructure doesn’t make workforce challenges disappear. But it should make us more hopeful about the future—and more determined to have our voices heard at the state and federal levels.

It pays to remind our legislators and government officials that the LTSS sector plays a critical role in our country’s social and economic life. When policy makers take actions to support our workforce, they need to know they are also supporting older adults and their families, creating new jobs, increasing employment rates, and strengthening communities.

We have a compelling story to tell. It’s time to start telling it.