John O’Connor

So here we are, on the cusp of a first-ever staffing mandate for skilled care facilities and things are getting a bit testy.

How testy? As my colleague Kim Marselas reported Thursday, providers are threatening to sue CMS if the new minimum requirements turn out to be overly prescriptive. As for what overly prescriptive actually means: I suspect we’ll have that answer soon enough.

The industry’s saber-rattling comes at a time when some interesting suggestions for easing labor woes are making the rounds. Among the most popular are more job training and additional provider payments. Both are probably good ideas, by the way.

But here’s an even better one: Take a lesson from Japan.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Japanese government is letting immigrants come in, work — and stay. 

Under a policy overhaul approved last week, the welcome mat is being put out for workers and their families in a dozen employment sectors where demand far outstrips supply.

Ironically, Japan once had far more restrictive immigration policies than we have here in the United States. But that is changing, fast. A decade ago, Japan had about 700,000 foreign workers. As of last October, the number was up to 1.8 million — and climbing.

But it’s not just Japan that’s looking elsewhere for help. Our neighbors to the north have loosened their labor laws as well. In fact, Canada expects to accept 1.5 million more migrants over the next two years. Germany is taking similar steps, in an effort to land more skilled and unskilled workers.

If we were to do the same here, we could literally raise the pool of possible frontline workers in long-term care by hundreds of thousands. Almost overnight. Do you think that might help operators deal with the worst staffing crisis this sector has ever seen? Or with minimum staffing mandates?

Unfortunately, the odds of us doing something similar are, well, practically nil.

A large chunk of our population seems to believe that allowing any foreigners into this country now is a bad thing. Makes me wonder where their ancestors came from.

If anything, the odds going forward probably favor more restrictive immigration rules. Meanwhile, a horrendous staffing situation in long-term care gets worse by the day.

Well, at least we can’t pretend no answers exist.

 John O’Connor is editorial director for McKnight’s.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.