LeadingAge CEO Katie Smith Sloan says the healthcare sector is not prepared for the influx of older adults in 2030.
By 2030, older adults over the age of 65 will make up 20% of the nation's population; meaning there will be an increased demand for long-term care and aging in place services. However, the pandemic pushed the sector beyond its limits, with workforce shortages persisting and inflation causing more financial strain.
There's much work to be done in healthcare to prepare for the increasing elderly population.
In December, LeadingAge, a community of nonprofit providers of aging services and other mission-driven organizations, wrote a letter to the Biden administration to institute an Office on Aging Policy for a more focused approach to addressing the influx of older adults. While the department of Health and Human Services established the Administration for Community Living, that federal service focuses primarily on programs supported by the Older Americans Act and doesn't include nursing homes, home health, or hospice.
"It's very limited in its scope, and that's why we wrote this letter to the president," LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan told HealthLeaders.
Sloan explains there needs to be a central policy office that can look across the federal government at the many agencies related to aging policy and look for opportunities to connect the work each one is doing to improve the experience of aging.
Preparation for the influx of older adults should have begun years ago, and the workforce shortage and ways to pay for long-term care are two issues that must be addressed, she said.
"We simply don't have the people to fill the jobs in our sector. Whether those jobs are nursing assistant, physical therapist, nursing home administrator, nurses, hospice nurses, service coordinators, the folks aren't out there flocking to our field or evening learning about our field," Sloan said.
"It's a pipeline issue, a recruitment issue, a retention issue, [and] a training issue, and we have pushed for an all-of-government approach to solutions. Whether that be immigration, education, and training infrastructure, apprenticeship programs, and other ways to create meaningful jobs in our sector, so we can fill all those vacancies that currently exist."
To help with the workforce shortage, many healthcare organizations have made employee well-being and satisfaction a priority, which has helped with retention. Many health systems have begun establishing educational partnerships with colleges and community colleges in their communities to create a pipeline of potential talent.
"Lots of our members are partnering with their local community college, for example, helping to teach classes, provide placement for [student's] practicum, and that's kind of an all-of-the-above strategy— which we need—for workforce development," Sloan said.
Paying for long-term care
There have been arguments made for a public-private financing solution to pay for long-term care, and LeadingAge is hoping to garner some congressional interest as it investigates legislative solutions.
"A new Congress is coming in, and I haven't heard this as anyone's priority, but we're going to work hard on trying to find some champions in both the House and the Senate who are willing to take on these issues...so that we do have solutions before 2030," Sloan said.
There's no singular bill that could solve these issues, and there are various pieces that need to come together, but the need for congressional action is certain, she said.
“A new Congress is coming in, and I haven't heard this as anyone's priority, but we're going to work hard on trying to find some champions in both the House and the Senate who are willing to take on these issues...so that we do have solutions before 2030.”
Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO, LeadingAge
The workforce shortage and the way patients pay for long term care are two issues that must be addressed before 2030.
LeadingAge has already proposed that the Biden administration institute an Office on Aging Policy.