A nurse with money in their pocket
Credit: rocketegg/Getty Images Plus

The nation’s second largest nursing home association is demanding the Biden administration provide “immediate relief” for aging services operators that would include a $5 per hour wage increase and a one-time $2,000 relief payment for qualified direct care workers to address widespread staffing shortages. 

The proposed wage increase is a good start “but not sufficient” enough to strengthen the workforce, according to one top expert.  

The pay hikes were a part of a six-step relief package LeadingAge presented in a letter to President Joe Biden on Tuesday.

“Dedicated, mission-focused providers across the continuum of aging services are doing all they can to keep meeting the needs of the older people they serve. But we need some additional help,” Katie Smith Sloan, LeadingAge President and CEO, wrote in the letter. 

The package would help struggling providers stay open and address staffing needs. In addition an emergency program that would fund $5 per hour increase and the one-time relief payment for workers that have been on the job for at least six months to address staffing shortages, LeadingAge called on federal officials to release a new tranche of $8 billion to $10 billion in Provider Relief Funds with aging services providers prioritized for the funding. 

The wage increase is fully supported by Harvard healthcare policy expert David Grabowski, who added that the sector “would be in much better shape today if policymakers had put this in place at [an earlier] time.”

“It’s not too late to do this now,” he told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News on Tuesday. 

He added that this wage increase “is necessary but not sufficient towards solidifying the workforce.” 

“Policymakers must also increase benefits and ensure better working conditions. All too often, staff are overworked due to staffing shortages,” Grabowski said. “Policymakers should put in place, support and enforce minimum staffing standards to ensure that staff are not overworked and residents have access to safe and effective care.” 

The LeadingAge letter also calls for a testing supply system that prioritizes providers, ensures that long-term care residents are first in line for therapeutics and a two-year extension of temporary waivers after the public health emergency expires. 

“This lack of financial support for the resources, organizations and professionals who serve older adults means that millions of Americans are denied access to fundamental services,” Sloan said. “It is time to ensure that all of us can access the care and support we need as we age.”