As the president of California Association of Healthcare Facilities and an administrator who sees daily the critical problems associated with the shortage of front-line nursing staff, I participated in the “Driving For Quality Care” national petition effort that made its way through Sacramento on its way to Washington, D.C. I was joined by other members of Sacramento’s long-term care community, as well as staff from representatives Robert Matsui and Doug Ose’s offices.
These essential workers perform approximately 80 percent of the direct care for our vulnerable residents. Their duties include the very activities of daily life most take for granted, i.e. feeding, grooming, personal hygiene, providing a cool drink on a hot day or simply the touch of a loving hand.
These employees, our Nursing and Resident Assistants, do their jobs with dignity and compassion. While these jobs do not reward with great glory or pay high salaries, they are the cornerstone for our ability to provide direct care to our residents—24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Here in California, estimates are that more than 40,000 nursing assistants are needed right now to fill active staff positions. This at a time when the California Department of Health Services’ most recent report reveals an overall decline of nursing assistants reaching into the double digits. Therein lies the problem: The supply of nurse aides is already at critical levels and there is no current motive force to encourage capable individuals to enter the health care field.
The president and Congress can help ease the shortage of front-line caregivers by passing into law legislation that helps recruit, retain and train care staff, and we were very pleased that representatives Matsui and Ose joined our call for action on this front. One thing is very clear: Unless the federal government takes decisive action to stabilize the long-term care workforce, the growing shortage of front-line caregivers threatens vulnerable seniors’ access to quality long-term care.
In the end, the situation boils down to demographic trends: As the baby boom generation begins reaching retirement age in large numbers in 2008-2010, the demand for nursing care will skyrocket.
What we need are the tools to continue to do the job. Addressing the shortage of front-line caregivers and the plight of long-term care facilities is not an option—it is a necessity. The national petition accompanying the “Driving for Quality Care” tour represents a massive and vital need in our nation’s health care system.
Here’s to your health.