Long-term care leaders and industry advocates “marched” alongside certified nursing assistants Wednesday in a push for better pay and support for them. 

The National Association of Health Care Assistants held a “Virtual March on Washington” during which industry and workforce stakeholders called for a better working environment for CNAs. Specifically, leaders called on lawmakers to create a government-funded wage increase that would move the current national average pay for CNAs from $13 per hour to $16 per hour, with a pathway toward $22 per hour with self-investment. 

“Today, we are here to let our voices be heard, to put a stake in the ground to ensure [our requests are met] from this day forward,” NAHCA co-founder and CEO Lori Porter said. 

She added that the group also wants the CNA profession to be solidified as a respected career title, rather than seen as an entry-level position. In addition, a goal is for a state-of-the-art career recruitment and placement platform to be established. 

Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association, noted that CNAs and frontline workers were one of the main reasons the healthcare system remained stable during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and that things would’ve been “much much worse without their bravery.” 

“People have finally recognized that CNAs are the heroes that many of us have known for a long time,” Parkinson said. “Words are not enough. It’s just not enough to say, ‘Thank you for doing a great job,’ or, ‘You’re heroes!’ It’s important to say, but it’s not enough.” 

Parkinson added that the words of gratitude must be backed up by action and pledged to support the effort to increase CNA wages. 

“The truth is that forever the CNA profession has not been recognized at both the pay level and the benefits level that it needs to be to support what they deserve and also to create a long-term career path,” he said. “It needs to be fixed.” 

He believes that relatively low Medicaid payments, the top funding source for most nursing home operators, need to improve. Any increased public funding, however, should be accompanied by increased transparency of how it is spent, cautioned Harvard Medical School policy professor David Grabowski.

LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan also promised the organization would work to boost up the direct care workforce and CNAs. 

“We all know that change won’t be easy,” she said. “Real change never is. But as a society, we simply must value care workers, older people and the aging services sector that supports all of us.”