With all the problems long-term care is grappling with and focusing on, sometimes it is harder to see even bigger problems down the road. Right now, senior care facilities are grappling with staffing shortages and a government that is seeking to impose federal staffing minimums at the same time. 

Providers are also dealing with staff burnout and staff mental health issues, while facilities have seen decreased census. That issue is improving, thankfully, but some facilities were forced to close as a byproduct of pandemic census problems nonetheless.

Furthermore, looking a little toward the future, we know that the demographics of the United States population show that a “Silver Tsunami” is coming. This is the not-so-euphemistic term used to describe the uptick in individuals from the baby boomer generation who are 80 or older, which will be increasing in years to come, imposing constraints on the availability of senior living beds.

Ok, so we have this perfect storm: Staffing shortages, perhaps federal nursing home staffing minimums, and an increase in senior population coming. But there is one more problem… and it is a big one.

Recently, at a seminar by the American Health Care Association/National Centers for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), I was surprised to learn that more is headed our way.

AHCA/NCAL showed a particular demographic chart that I hadn’t seen or thought about before. For the first time in our nation’s history (or at least since 1900), the US population is not growing. Yes, that’s right, NOT growing. As a result of this current lull, in decades to come, the number of individuals (ages 45-64) even available to care for that Silver Tsunami wave coming in will be reduced by as much as half. 

In other words, if today there are six people in the US between 45 and 64 who can be employed in nursing homes and assisted living facilities to care for one elderly person, that number will soon be reduced to three people for every one senior. 

What does that mean? Well, given the staffing shortages, this means it will be that much more difficult to attract staff for facilities because the people just won’t be there… physically. All this will just add to the difficulties of staffing in the face of the Silver Tsunami.

But don’t panic. I’m sure facilities will get through this as they always have to provide the best care possible for our seniors. But I think this means that the staffing problem may be that much more difficult to solve in the future. There have to be other ways to care for seniors to account for the dwindling workforce available to treat them.

The answer might be healthcare technology. Yes, all this goes back to showing that AI and healthcare technology may not be the far-off, distant, amorphous concept you have been thinking about for your facilities. 

Rather, now might be a better time than ever to adopt and invest in AI and technology strategies to help improve the quality of care, certainly, but also to account for the staffing shortages and possible reduced staff available to care for residents in the future. 

We are not talking about robots taking over and running a facility. There will always be the need for direct care and frontline staff to provide loving care to our seniors. But with less staff available, perhaps technology can help reduce stress levels, provide insights, and, most importantly, continue to improve care despite the demographic difficulties discussed above.

But with anything new, there are also pitfalls. I constantly preach to our clients that they need to focus on the details of AI and healthcare technology contracts to apportion tasks, duties and risk with vendors and to make sure facilities limit their liability with these technology companies in a fair and reasonable way. Also, with more new technology comes further compliance concerns. 

In the end, whether it is special monitoring devices, technology to remove or ease administrative tasks that allow staff to focus on direct care, AI to help monitor and alert staff regarding residents, or just helping to provide more efficient administration and care, AI and technology may be just what the industry needs right now. 

Neville M. Bilimoria is a partner in the Chicago Office of the Health Law Practice Group and member of the Post-Acute Care And Senior Services Subgroup at Duane Morris LLP.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.

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