A rare opportunity to address the sector's labor woes

John O'Connor
John O'Connor

It's no secret that frontline work in a long-term care facility can be physically and mentally draining.

The hours are often ridiculous. Nights, weekends and holidays can be part of the deal. And there are constant no-shows, which often means those in the building must pull an additional shift.

Toss in low wages and increasing competition, and it's not too hard to see why the leaky-bucket problem is a perennial issue.

So it's probably safe to say that the long-term care field could use lots of workers happy to take entry-level jobs.

If only there were a sudden supply of willing people who would salivate at the prospect.

Well, it turns out such a group of individuals actually exists. And they go by the title of Syrian refugees. As many as 7 million Syrians have been displaced by their nation's ongoing civil war. And many countries smaller than ours are admitting them, largely to perform the menial tasks the locals won't touch.

But only 1,500 Syrian refuges have been accepted into the United States since 2011. That may soon change, as the Obama administration announced in September that 10,000 Syrians will be allowed entry next year.

But in many quarters, this expansion is hardly being welcomed. In fact, more than half of our nation's governors recently said they don't want these expats entering their states. Their pronouncements came after it was revealed that at least one of the suspects involved in the recent Paris attacks had falsely identified himself as a Syrian.

To be sure, no sane person would promote the admission of terrorists into the United States. Let's face it, we already grow plenty of our own.

But it's not like other nations have not realized that Syrians tend to be hard, dependable workers.

So here's a crazy suggestion: Let's adequately screen all Syrians who would like to enter this country. But give priority to those who are willing to work in long-term care settings.

Long-term care needs more help. The Syrian refugees need jobs. Seems to me this could be a real win-win.

John O'Connor is McKnight's Editorial Director.

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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