A shortage of caregivers in Minnesota – emblematic of the dire situation across the nation – has led state health officials to seek assistance from the National Guard.
In November, the state of Minnesota activated 400 National Guard members to train as certified nursing assistants and aides to help combat worker shortages at long-term care facilities and relieve overworked staff, the Duluth News Tribune reported.
Minnesota is a microcosm of what’s happening across the country: A recent report by the Global Coalition on Aging (GCOA) and Home Instead Senior Care revealed the caregiver shortage will worsen in time. According to the report, about 10,000 Baby Boomers in the U.S. turn 65 every day, and approximately 70% of older adults have severe needs for long-term services and support. What’s more, almost 80% of adults aged 50+ have a desire to stay in their homes as they age. As a result, the study’s authors project a national shortage of 151,000 caregivers will exist by 2030 and reaching 355,000 by 2040.
To meet demand today and in the future will require change. The study’s authors suggest an increase in wages and benefits; caregivers earn a median annual income of $20,000 (which is below the poverty level for a family of four), rollout of uniform training and education standards, and an industry-wide effort to make caregivers feel like a valued part of the health care system.
“While older people and their families recognize the value professional caregivers provide, caregiving is still too often considered low-status work,” the authors of the report stated. “A variety of factors contribute to this lack of respect for caregiving, each of which makes it difficult to recruit and retain skilled professionals around the world. It is time for universally accepted ideas about the caregiving workforce to correspond with the shifts in supply and demand—and the increasing need for this work within society.”
In an op-ed in the Duluth News Tribune, Jon Riewer, president and CEO of Eventide Senior Living Communities, expressed frustration about inadequate pay contributing to the shortage of caregivers.
“Long-term care facilities must wait up to 20 months to receive reimbursement from the state of Minnesota for the actual cost of providing caregiving services to residents,” he writes. “This profound delay in repayment greatly affects our ability to raise caregiver wages to keep our valuable caregivers from leaving us to work someplace else for more money.”
To date, 42 facilities have requested help from the National Guard, and the first three teams of caregivers in Minnesota began working at senior care facilities in early December. So far, 100 members are at work at nine facilities, with more care communities under consideration to receive support teams. The most requests for support came from the central and northwestern parts of the state, along with the Twin Cities metro area, according to Diane Rydrych, acting assistant commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Health’s Health Systems Bureau.
While the short-term support and a stay preventing a federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate from taking effect in nursing homes made a difference, it didn’t solve the problem. Minnesota senior care facilities still reported that 76% of nursing homes in the state – more than 90% in some regions – were unable to take in new residents because of insufficient staffing.
At the same time the National Guard was deployed, a Minnesota Human Services Committee called on lawmakers to come up with resolutions to staffing challenges in the state’s long-term care communities. Kari Thurlow, vice president of advocacy at LeadingAge Minnesota and her team requested lawmakers and agency heads take action to boost caregiver pay and benefits. The Minnesota governor’s office said it would use $50 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to help recruit and retain caregivers across the state. It also intends to attract more workers by offering paid tuition to individuals training to become certified nursing assistants.