Changing Our Field by Valuing Caregivers

Conversations with Katie | July 13, 2021

Do we value the LTSS caregiving workforce? The answer to that question could change our field forever, writes President & CEO Katie Smith Sloan.

What do we value?

All human beings grapple with this big question at some point—or even at multiple points—during their lifetimes. Our answer to that question can alter our perspectives, our decisions, our actions, and even the course of our lives.

The need to find value and to be valued is truly at the heart of being human. For this reason, it is particularly significant that LeadingAge chose to use the word “valued” not once, but twice, in the title of our new vision for professionalizing the caregiving workforce in the field of long-term services and supports (LTSS).

We didn’t choose our title lightly. Quite the contrary. Feeling Valued Because They ARE Valued illustrates our fundamental approach to supporting the nursing assistants, personal care aides, and home health aides who provide life-sustaining services and supports to older adults living in assisted living, nursing home, and home and community-based settings.

In a nutshell: We want these professionals to feel valued so they will feel called to continue their important work in our field. But we know they will never feel valued unless we take deliberate steps to make sure they are valued.

Our vision consists of six strategies for professionalizing the direct care workforce. We believe that all of these strategies, taken together, will help us improve recruitment of new caregivers, reduce turnover among current caregivers, and ensure that a stable, high-quality workforce will be available to care for older adults with LTSS needs well into the future. I urge you to read our visioning paper for details about why each of the following strategies is critical and how we can make each a reality:

  • Expand the pipeline of potential caregivers by recruiting nontraditional workers to the LTSS field and changing immigration policy to expand the potential labor pool for jobs in the LTSS field.
  • Enhance competency-based education and training, both initial and ongoing, so professional caregivers will feel well-prepared to carry out increasingly complex care tasks—and so nursing homes, assisted living communities, home care organizations, consumers, and their families will have confidence in those caregivers.
  • Facilitate career advancement so professional caregivers can grow into meaningful LTSS careers that offer them a variety of opportunities, including career pathways that allow them to become condition-specific specialists; take on advanced caregiving roles; be accepted as valued members of integrated care teams; perform a full range of health maintenance tasks under the supervision of registered nurses; or pursue careers in nursing, social work, therapy, and management.
  • Increase compensation so direct care professionals can earn at least a living wage. As outlined in our recent study, Making Care Work Pay, this level of compensation would provide caregivers with enhanced financial security while also reducing turnover and staffing shortages at aging services organizations, boosting productivity, enhancing quality of care, and increasing overall economic growth in communities where direct care professionals live.
  • Prepare “universal workers” who could master and demonstrate a core set of competency-based training standards identified by federal policymakers. These “universal workers” would then have the flexibility to work across settings and even across state boundaries, responding to caregiver shortages in specific markets.
  • Reform the LTSS financing system by exploring the use of social insurance approaches that would provide additional and more consistent funding for LTSS and help ensure that the LTSS workforce receives adequate compensation.

In presenting this vision for professionalizing the caregiving workforce, LeadingAge is asking policymakers and consumers to make decisions and take actions designed to demonstrate the true value of professional caregivers.

I have no doubt that valuing the direct care workforce in this way will change the lives of caregivers and care recipients, make it easier for you to recruit and retain skilled caregivers, and prepare our field for the future.