AHCA calls for immigration reform to meet staffing shortage

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Saying the current permanent visa programs for immigrants are “insufficient and inadequate” to meet long-term care staffing needs, the American Health Care Association outlined its vision of immigration reform Wednesday.
 
“A critical part of any immigration reform package must take into account ways to supply the U.S. economy with the workers it needs to recover from the downturn and grow,” said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA.
 
The association is asking for employers to have access to previously unused H-1B temporary work visas for nurses and physical therapists, and for the government to waive the cap on employment-based visas for nurses and physical therapists, speech therapists and those providing other therapies. There were approximately 60,000 vacant direct care staff positions as of 2010, according to an AHCA study.
 
The permanent residence program provides approximately 5,000 annual visas for essential workers, which is not enough to meet the demand. Long-term care providers are struggling to fill mid-level positions in skilled nursing centers, said Fred Benjamin, the chief operating officer of Medicalodges in Kansas.
 
“We are urging Congress to increase the supply of staff. There are many talented immigrants eager to enter the field,” he said. “We see an opportunity in immigration reform.”
 
The need for qualified staff, and increase in Medicaid cuts, make this “a problem for everyone,” he said.

Benjamin will testify before the House Education & Workforce Subcommittee on Workplace Safety at 10:00 A.M. Eastern Thursday, marking a first step in what AHCA said will be ongoing engagement with lawmakers on this issue. Many AHCA members have “been struggling with this issue for years,” and the nursing home group believes there is now “a real climate for reform,” spokesman Greg Crist said.