No way to fix staffing

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

It's no secret that our nation's long-term care facilities need additional caregivers. More than 43,000 direct care staff positions remain unfilled, according to figures from the American Health Care Association. 

Nor is it a mystery why so many positions are open. After all, low pay, high injury rates, massive stress and being required to work nights, weekends and holidays are not the kinds of perks that most job seekers pine for.

And the worst appears yet to come, as many current nurses are getting older and will be difficult to replace.

Given these realities, we should probably be doing as many common sense things as possible to provide relief. Two obvious options come immediately to mind. First, we should make it easier for immigrants to work in long-term care settings. Second, we ought to focus on training people for healthcare jobs who are likely to stay.

But that's about 180 degrees from what's actually happening.

Take immigration reform. The Senate passed a 1,200-page measure last June and has been waiting for the House to take action ever since. But the Senate might as well be waiting for a bus that's never going to show up, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) recently announced.

“We have no intention ever of going to conference on the Senate bill,” he said.

But if Congressional action is bizarre, what a growing number of state universities are doing should make your blood boil. Facing declining support from cash-strapped states, many are now throwing the welcome mat out to foreign students while telling in-state students to take a hike. 

In a November report, the State Department noted that the number of foreign students in the United States jumped by 7% last year, to more than 800,000. The trend driver here is China, whose enrollments are up 21% to 235,000 students, according to the report.

So at a time when our frail seniors need all the help they can get, Congress is dithering and many universities are aggravating a labor shortage. Given what's at stake, both should be doing a better job.