LeadingAge Magazine · July/August 2016 • Volume 06 • Number 04

The Hands and Hearts That Make Our Work Possible

July 14, 2016 | by Gene Mitchell

The Hands and Hearts That Make Our Work Possible

While working on this issue I had a conversation with Adam Suomala of LeadingAge Minnesota, who passed on an interesting remark he heard from a state demographer. She objected to the term “silver tsunami,” often used to describe the massively increasing population of aged Americans who will need services in the near future. Tsunami, in her opinion, implies a wholly unpredictable and negative development, even though there is nothing in the least unpredictable about the coming demand for aging services.

A fascinating essay by Paul Robbins, director of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, talks about a wide range of consequences that dramatic demographic change, in the form of long-term population decline, will likely have.

One of those effects could not be more relevant to the aging-services field: “The burden of the aging population increasingly falls on an incrementally shrinking population of young people,” Robbins writes. “The potential support ratio (PSR), the number of 15–64-year-olds for every person over 65, will fall to four by 2050, from a mid-twentieth-century level of twelve, nearly tripling the economic and care burden for younger generations since 1950.”

That, along with a lot of other trends discussed in the essay, surely is concentrating the minds of people in our field, tasked with finding ways to deal with the world we’re about to see. Clearly, LeadingAge members will spend the next 30 years thinking about and adapting to the inescapable effects of changing demographics, longer lives and evolving demands from consumers.

One of the natural results of these changes is the subject of our first feature article, “Seeking Solutions to Worker Shortages.” Today, there are already thousands of seniors that can’t be served by providers because of inability to staff communities. Read more about the issues involved, and how some providers and LeadingAge state partners are creatively addressing the difficulties of maintaining adequate and quality staff.

If finding new employees gets harder, one natural response is better retention of current staff. See “Staff Retention for Quality and Growth” to learn about the strategies members are using to ensure engaged long-term staff. Speaking of “engaged” employees, the article includes a useful, clarifying discussion of just what “staff engagement” means.

One important solution to workforce shortages in our field has been the recruitment of immigrants to work in long-term care. The cultural challenges this creates, along with other changes affecting what is already the world’s most diverse nation, makes “Cultural Competence for a Diverse Future” a must-read.

The shift toward more home and community-based services, which promises to reduce the overall cost burdens of serving seniors, nonetheless creates its own headaches for providers. Read “Building the Home and Community-Based Care Workforce” to see how our members are managing workers in the field.

This issue’s Vision column, “Understanding Competencies for a New Generation of Leaders,” is a conversation with Randy Lindner, president and CEO of the National Association of Long Term Care Administrator Boards. Workforce challenges aren’t just about direct-care workers, after all.

You’ll see the second installment in our new “This I Have Learned …” series, which offers a platform for thoughtful LeadingAge members as well as leaders from related fields to reflect on what experience has taught them about our work and the reasons we do it. This time we hear from 4 member-leaders, 2 of whom are retiring.

Organizations routinely look for best practices outside their own walls, but sometimes looking in the usual places is not enough. Read "Speed-Dating: A Board Best Practice” to see how one provider solved a communication gap by adapting a popular ritual of 21st-century dating to its own purposes.

Also in this issue, you’ll find the latest installment in our ever-popular “People We Serve” series: “Lives of Compassion and Service: These Are the People We Serve,” and our Partnerships Department, which tells 4 stories of members that partner with those both inside and outside of our field to improve services and make a difference in their communities.