The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered our way of living while putting enormous pressures on the health and long-term care sectors, including the direct care workforce. Epidemiologists are predicting that it will continue to worsen in the months ahead, straining our health care resources, the economy, and the full aging and long-term care system.
In times of crisis, important policy wins are often understandably overshadowed by more pressing matters. In this context, one major win for direct care workers took place last Wednesday when President Trump signed into law the Supporting Older Americans Act of 2020, which reauthorizes the Older Americans Act (OAA) for five more years and increases funding levels for its programs by six to seven percent between now and 2024.
The Supporting Older Americans Act of 2020 also includes—for the first time in history—a measure that will establish grants to improve recruitment, retention, and career advancement for direct care workers throughout the Aging Network of area agencies and state units on aging. This item was one of four OAA reauthorization policy goals that PHI identified and began advocating for in early 2019.
Here’s what we wrote in May 2019:
“While the poor quality of direct care jobs is the primary driver of recruitment and retention challenges for employers, many leaders in long-term care are nevertheless piloting interventions to better find and hold onto workers. This recommendation would fund the aging network to develop innovative recruitment and retention strategies that are adapted to the unique realities of their geographic areas—an idea being advocated at the state-level by PHI and a coalition of New York-based caregiving advocates.”
Our specific recommendation read: “Establish grant programs that fund the implementation and evaluation of innovative strategies to recruit and retain the direct care workforce in home and community-based services (HCBS), strengthening its ability to provide high-quality care to older adults.”
We’re thrilled by the inclusion of this recommendation in the OAA reauthorization and will work with our advocacy partners over the next year to ensure this measure is funded by Congress. We’re deeply grateful to the many organizations that helped lead this effort, most notably the members of the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations.
Here’s a toast to strengthening the direct care workforce so that its better equipped to deliver quality care to older people and people with disabilities, especially in times of crisis.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.