Workforce Crisis Highlights Nation’s Failed Commitment to Older Adults

For Immediate Release
September 7, 2022
Contact: Joellen Leavelle, jleavelle@usaging.org and 202.872.0888
 
WASHINGTON—America’s older adults are facing a crisis not borne of the pandemic, but one that has been significantly worsened by it. Long before COVID-19, due to underinvestment in essential programs, older adults experienced delays in receiving much-needed services that support their ability to age well at home. New data from USAging shows that shortages in the caregiving workforce pose a significant threat to the ability of older adults to age well in their homes.
 
Caregiver Needed: How the Nation’s Workforce Shortages Make it Harder to Age Well at Home, a new report from USAging, reveals that scores of older adults across the country are at risk of being placed on waiting lists for many critical and much-needed services, such as in-home assistance with bathing and dressing; meal delivery and preparation; grocery shopping; and transportation to medical appointments. “With evidence mounting as to the value of these services to the health and well-being of older adults, it is unacceptable that our nation would fail to address these workforce issues, leaving older adults at risk of poor health outcomes and nursing home admission,” said USAging CEO Sandy Markwood.
 
The survey revealed that 94 percent of Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) are seeing an increase in the number of older adults requesting support, with 95 percent of AAAs reporting an increase in the complexity of the needs of the older adults seeking assistance. Additionally, 99 percent of responding AAAs reported that older adults in their service areas are experiencing increased social isolation and loneliness as a result of workforce shortages. In the face of increasing demand for their services, another 94 percent of AAAs reported that older adults were not receiving services as often as they were needed and 92 percent reported that some older adults were not able to receive one or more of the services they need at all—resulting in older adults experiencing declining health, missing medical appointments, and being admitted to hospitals and nursing homes at higher rates.  
 
Not only have AAAs seen declines in staff, with 41 percent indicating staff vacancies of up to 15 percent, but one-third of AAA respondents reported that they had lost at least half of their volunteer workforce since 2019. As a result, AAAs are handling larger caseloads and report that they have started or added to the numbers of people on their waiting lists for services. “Our members are inside the homes of older adults and have seen the impact that missed medical appointments and a lack of needed services have had on older adults. By failing to invest in the caregiving workforce and the essential services they provide, our nation’s leaders are effectively turning their backs on America’s older adults,” continued Markwood.
 
Around the country, America’s network of AAAs and Title VI Native American Aging Programs are doing all in their power to address the workforce crisis, but national employment trends and longstanding underinvestment in the social services sector have made it difficult to solve for the problem locally. “USAging’s members have served as local incubators of ideas that they have used to address the caregiving workforce crisis in their communities,” said Markwood. “Yet they don’t all control the wages they can pay within certain federal and state programs such as Medicaid—and even when they do, it’s difficult to stretch limited funding enough to be truly competitive with retail or private sector jobs that are less stressful than caregiving.”
 
As outlined in our 2022 Policy Priorities, USAging has called on Congress and the Biden Administration to prioritize these workforce shortages along with longer-term training and retention challenges by making much-needed investments in the programs necessary to meet the current and future needs of growing numbers of older adults in this country. “We need a national strategy to address this crisis, and it needs to include expansion of key programs that support older adults, such as the Older Americans Act and Medicaid home and community-based services programs. Major investments in these two critical programs are priorities of the Biden Administration, yet Congress has not yet followed suit—missing a key opportunity to include investments for these programs in the Inflation Reduction Act.” 
 
We knew the growing numbers of older adults would only increase pressure on our aging services and long-term care systems—and we’ve been warning Congress for decades. Now that we are aging rapidly as a country and we’re experiencing widespread workforce issues, the situation is all the more acute because of that lack of that planning.” Markwood concluded: “If we want to support people to age well at home, then the nation must invest in the workforce and the hands-on services and supports they require.”
 


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USAging Fact: Learn about your peers’ work—and how it can fit into your agency’s goals! The AIA Awards recognizes successful and innovative programs that USAging members have developed to serve older adults. Get inspiration from our 2023 winners!