The long-term services and supports sector must reimagine the direct care workforce, making employees feel more valued, to reduce turnover and improve recruitment, according to a new analysis. 

“Direct care professionals face many challenges and are not valued for their essential role to care for older adults and people with disabilities,” explained authors Robyn Stone and Natasha Bryant, with LeadingAge’s LTSS Center @UMass Boston. Stone is LeadingAge’s senior vice president of research and co-director of the center, while Bryant is a managing director and senior research associate at the center. 

“Programs and policies are needed to stabilize and strengthen the quality of the workforce by investing in competency-based training, providing living wages and benefits, and offering career development opportunities,” they added. 

In a white paper released Thursday, the researchers highlighted several strategies LTSS employers could utilize to help caregivers understand their value and important role in the field in order to curb severe staffing shortages seen over the last year. 

Among the strategies the authors called for included expanding the pipeline of potential caregivers by recruiting nontraditional workers to the sector and reforming the industry’s financing system. 

“The infusion of insurance-based dollars into the LTSS system can provide additional and more consistent financing that, in part, can help ensure more adequate wages for the LTSS workforce,” Stone and Bryant urged. 

They also called on industry leaders to enhance education and training for both new and longtime professional caregivers, facilitate career advancement, increase compensation and prepare universal workers who can become direct care professionals in all LTSS fields, including in nursing homes and home- and community-based settings. 

“Federal policymakers could help promote the universal worker concept by identifying a core set of competencies at the federal level that aides, regardless of setting, should master and demonstrate,” they wrote. “This approach could ensure that each professional caregiver is prepared for jobs in nursing homes, assisted living communities, other residential care settings, and home care.”

They added, “The universal worker approach would also create a ‘frontline care professional’ occupation that would give aides the flexibility to move across settings and even across state boundaries.” 

The strategies laid out in the report give LTSS providers a path forward on how to ensure the industry has a sustainable workforce in the future, said LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan.

“Care workers like nursing assistants, personal care aides, and home health aides are the heart of aging services,” she said in a statement Thursday. “The COVID pandemic shed new light on how valuable these professionals are, but also made clear that America does not have the infrastructure for aging services that we need.”