Lori Porter

I’m pretty sure I’ve always been a pain in the butt to any employer I’ve worked for. Mostly, I think it’s because I asked a lot of questions and tried to find answers to things I didn’t like. I was written up for my attitude a couple of times when I was a brand new certified nursing assistant at the McDonald County nursing home in Anderson, Mo., back in the 1980s. I learned a great deal from those experiences, including the value of being a CNA and rewards that come with it. 

While I certainly have a better attitude about my work today, I learned in those early years that being curious is a good thing. Curiosity about what’s new and what’s next can be a great incubator for ideas. As co-founder and CEO of the National Association of Health Care Assistants (NAHCA), I now spend a great deal of time thinking about these things for my members.

I still ask questions and seek answers, which is how I landed on the belief that CNAs deserve more than to be called “workers,” and the long-term care workforce deserves to be called a “careforce.”

Nearly anyone who knows me knows that I really dislike the word “worker” when used in reference to CNAs. CNAs are not workers; they are staff, they are team members, they are caregivers, and they are care partners. For the providers who embrace culture change and person-centeredness, this observation should resonate with you.

We all know that language is a powerful tool in the broader effort to deliver high-quality care for those who reside in long-term care settings. In my opinion, this thinking should extend to CNAs — not as a way to make up for the fact that they are paid so much less than any other caregiver — but because they deserve to be known as professionals who care deeply.

If you agree with me on this point, then it shouldn’t be a stretch to see that CNAs, as the largest contingent of staff members in nursing homes, should be known as a careforce, as opposed to a workforce. In other words, if worker and workforce go together, then caregiver and careforce should flow together as well.

Again, most anyone who knows me also knows that I have been using this term for some time. So, when I had the incredible opportunity to meet with U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra on a recent roundtable call to discuss the president’s proposals for improving nursing home care, I seized the opportunity to use this language.

And I’m so glad I did, because not only did Sec. Becerra tell me on the call that he liked the term “careforce,” he also used it in a press release that summarized the roundtable just a few days later. “The group underscored the importance of creating a culture that emphasizes that this is a ‘careforce’ not a workforce,” the HHS statement said.

When I co-founded NAHCA 27 years ago, I wanted to ensure that CNAs had an organization that represents and advocates for their profession. While I certainly had no idea that someday a presidential cabinet member would embrace my idea, I do hope it catches on and sticks.

I urge you to let your CNAs know that they truly are key members of a careforce. You can do this by participating in CNA Week, June 16-22, and acknowledging their contributions, recognizing their value and hearing their voices. 

CNAs are hungry for tools, resources and training to provide the best possible care for the residents they love. If you invest in your CNAs, you can have a careforce to make your facility stand out in even the most challenging of times.

Lori Porter is co-founder and CEO of the National Association of Health Care Assistants. She started her career as a CNA and worked as a nursing home administrator before creating NAHCA in 1995.

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.