Strange ways to deal with long-term care's staffing challenge

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

It's no secret that our nation's long-term care facilities need additional caregivers. More than 43,000 direct care staff positions remain unfilled, according to figures from the American Health Care Association.

Nor is it a mystery why so many positions are open. After all, low pay, high injury rates, massive stress and being required to work nights, weekends and holidays are not the kinds of perks that most job seekers pine for.

And the worst appears yet to come, as many current nurses are getting older and will be difficult to replace.

Given these realities, we should be doing as many common sense things as possible to provide relief. Two obvious options come immediately to mind. First, we should make it easier for immigrants to work in long-term care settings. Second, we ought to focus on training people for healthcare jobs who are likely to stay.

But the current reality could not be much more different.

Take immigration reform. The Senate passed a 1,200-page measure last June and has been waiting for the House to take action ever since. But the Senate might as well be waiting for a bus that's never going to show up. Earlier this week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced that the House would not be able to consider the issue until next year, at the earliest.

"We have no intention ever of going to conference on the Senate bill," Boehner said.

That's quite a contrast to what he promised after Hispanic voters trounced Republican candidates at the polls in 2012. One week after those elections, here's what he said: “I think a comprehensive approach is long overdue. And I'm confident that the president, myself and others can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all.” As the saying goes, that was then …

But if Congressional action is bizarre, what a growing number of state universities are doing should make your blood boil. Facing declining support from cash-strapped states, many are now throwing the welcome mat out to foreign students while telling in-state students to take a hike. You don't need to be a jingoistic meathead to see several downsides here.

So rather than educating nurses and other healthcare providers who might, well, stay in the country, they are instead taking the quick cash, harming our economy and helping other nations better compete against our nation.

Earlier this week, a report from the State Department noted that the number of foreign students in the United States jumped by 7% last year, to more than 800,000. The trend driver here is China, whose enrollments are up 21% to 235,000 students, according to the report.

So at a time when our frail seniors need all the help they can get, Congress is dithering and many institutions of higher learning are making the problem worse. Kind of makes you proud to be an American, doesn't it?

John O'Connor is Editorial Director at McKnight's.

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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