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Five Things That Won’t Change In Long Term Care Workforce (And One That Will)

Michigan’s long-term care system faces a lot of changes as baby boomers get older and increasing numbers of health care providers retire. Here are 5 that things won’t.

1. Needing more workers

Despite advances in technology and new care delivery techniques like team-based care, the number of direct care workers needed to care or Michigan’s rapidly aging population will only increase.

In addition to the aging of the baby boomers, family and policy changes are increasing demand for additional direct-care workers. Families live further away from aging relatives and policy changes in Medicaid and Medicare are encouraging patients to stay in their homes to receive care, rather than in long-term care facilities

America will need an additional 2-3 million more long term care workers.

2. Increasing numbers of patients

As life expectancy continues to rise in tandem with the aging of the baby boomers, Michigan’s long-term care workforce will continue serve increasing numbers of patients.

Additionally, Affordable Care Act changes will continue to provide continuum of coverage for “dual-eligibles,” the growing number of elderly and disabled patients who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid.

These types of patients will demand greater in-home direct care as part of an on-going commitment at the state level to address the complex care needs – and their attendant costs — for these populations.

3. Needing more highly-trained workers

Even as demand (and Medicare payments) for specialized gerontologists increases, the number of applications to gerontology fellowships are decreasing. These specialized physicians will be increasingly essential in a rapidly aging state.

Chris Langston found that even a projected Medicare payment rate increase that would amount to around $20,000 a year for gerontologists, applications to gerontology fellowships fell. Last year the total number of new gerontology fellows fell to below 200 – despite increasing numbers of graduating residents.

More gerontological training is essential at all levels of health care education: doctors, nurses, PA’s, and allied health professionals need additional education on the needs of elderly patients.

4. New health care setting care models won’t be a cure-all

New models for health care settings have often promised to a “silver bullet” to fix health care problems. However, one change won’t fix everything, there will need to be a wide range of solutions that look at every aspect of health care delivery for older adults with complex health care needs.

5. Cost of inaction is sky high

Waiting to address the many challenges facing long-term care workforce: pay, working conditions, employee training and turnover, and lack of career advancement; will not make these problems disappear.

The costs of inaction on these issues will only grow as the numbers of patients needed multiply, exacerbating existing challenges and limiting future solutions.

Download the Michigan Health Council’s long-term care workforce fact sheet. For more information, contact the MHC here.

One thing that will change?

New education, training, and programs to address career development will be essential. Without new programs to examine these issues, there may not be enough long-term care employees to care for this growing group of patients.

Innovative solutions are essential to developing programs that address the long term care workforce challenges facing Michigan.

Ideas like developing career pathways between work and college training for long-term care workers, and partnerships with colleges to create opportunities for joint work and college credit are needed to ensure a sufficient workforce to meet the health care needs of Michigan’s patients and families.

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