Direct-care workers may be best leaders of interdisciplinary senior care teams, expert tells LTC Commission

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The Congressional Commission on Long-Term Care met for its fourth public hearing Tuesday and focused on service delivery and workforce issues.

The commission heard from two panels. The first covered service delivery and provider innovation; the second was on the long-term care workforce. However, the panels addressed some of the same topics, such as the role of long-term care workers in care coordination.

Supporting unpaid caregivers and deploying technology to facilitate better information sharing among professionals are among the primary innovations and best practices that should be considered, said panelist Lisa Alecxih, senior vice president and director of the Lewin Center for Aging and Disability Policy.

Healthcare professionals from different disciplines must also develop teamwork skills, said panelist Tracy Lustig, DPM, MPH, senior program officer at the Institute of Medicine.

Physicians are “not necessarily” most suited to leading an interdisciplinary geriatric care team, Lustig said in response to a question from Commission Chairman Bruce Chernof, M.D., president and CEO of the SCAN Foundation.

“When it comes to long-term care, that's not where the rubber meets the road, it's really the people that are there on a daily basis,” Lustig said.

In her written testimony, Lustig referred to direct-care workers in nursing homes, assisted living and home care as the “linchpin” of the U.S. long-term services and supports system. She said the need for these workers is “particularly dire,” and incentives such as better pay, benefits, job safety and opportunities for career growth should be considered to improve recruitment and retention.

Working on a tight schedule, the commission has already begun drafting its report to Congress, according to staff director G. Lawrence Atkins, Ph.D. The group was charged with drafting this report after the repeal of the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act in January.

Members will meet privately on Aug. 19 and 29 to discuss policy recommendations, and must conclude all commission business by the end of September, Atkins said on a recent conference call.