The Eldercare Work Force Alliance is a group of 25 national organizations joined together to address the immediate and future work force crisis in eldercare. It was formed in response to the Institute of Medicine’s 2008 report, "Retooling for an Aging America: Building the Healthcare Work Force."

Eldercare employs millions of individuals in the United States, and is projected to be the fastest-growing employment sector within the health care industry. Strengthening these caregiving occupations not only is vital to our social infrastructure and improving the quality of care, but also has the potential to drive long-term economic growth, particularly within low-income communities.

Alliance members believe that we can and must create a health care workforce that meets the needs of older adults and their families. As recommended by the IOM, our proposed solutions include:

Require a minimum of 120 hours of training for certified nursing aides and home health aides, including explicit geriatric care and gerontological content; and create minimum training standards/competencies for non-clinical direct-care workers.

Increase compensation for direct-care workers through means such as: a) establishing minimum standards for wages and benefits paid under public programs, and b) targeting reimbursements to ensure that public funds directly improve compensation for direct-care workers.

Increase compensation for clinical professionals and educators with geriatric and gerontological expertise—they will be needed to care for our frailest elders and their families, and to help educate the rest of the workforce.

Increase funding for federal and state programs that support development of geriatrics faculty and clinician training—such as Title VII and Title VIII.

Implement federal and state programs that provide incentives—such as loan forgiveness—to those entering careers caring for older adults.

The Chicago Tribune recently had an article talking about the shortage of qualified and compassionate nurses in Indiana.  The article states that Indiana’s nursing homes are facing critical shortages of registered nurses and nurses aides.  An industry survey found nursing homes in this state had the nation’s highest vacancy rate for registered nurses last year, and the rate for vacant aide positions was the eighth highest in the nation.

Advocates for seniors agreed with the urgent need for more nurses and aides. An AHCA survey released last month found 26.0 percent, or more than a quarter, of registered nurse positions in nursing homes were vacant last year on June 30. The survey found that 13.7 percent of certified nurses’ aides slots – about one in seven – also were empty on that day. The national vacancy rate for nurses was 16.3 percent and for nurses aides, 9.5 percent.  This hurts the quality of care since many nursing homes will hire anybody and not fire anyone even if caught abusing or neglecting residents.

What we’re seeing over and over again is there’s a direct link between quality and staffing.   With unqualified or incompetent staff, many nurses get burnt out or over worked which leads to high turnover rates. The AHCA report estimated the two-thirds of RNs in nursing homes left their jobs last year and that 93 percent of aides did.

Michelle Niemier, executive director of the advocacy group United Senior Action of Indiana, agreed nursing homes needed more RNs and aides, but said those staffs also had to have the training, supervision and consistent hours to adequately serve residents and their families.

“The number one concern of family members is the number of well qualified, well trained, well supervised staff in nursing homes,” Niemier said.