The time to invest in aging services is now

For better or worse, we are all aging. The median age in Dubuque and throughout Iowa is rising. The fastest growing age groups in Iowa are older than 65, and the 85 plus population — the age group most likely to need aging services such as nursing homes — is forecast to grow 90% by 2040.

We must take action now to ensure we have the resources to meet the needs of older adults in the future.

One of the most concerning factors in providing aging services for this growing population is workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the challenges many health care providers were already experiencing with workforce.

Since the pandemic, the aging services workforce has decreased by more than 11%, while costs have increased by 15% due to inflation. This challenges already stretched organizations to do more with less, placing older adults at risk and limiting access to care.

All health care providers across the state of Iowa and the country are struggling with workforce, however, Iowa’s aging services sector continues to suffer major labor shortages when compared with other health care providers, such as hospitals and clinics. To fill these gaps during the pandemic, many providers turned to staffing agencies to make up for staffing shortages, and many still rely on them today.

While this does solve the issue of filling positions, this can have a drastic financial impact on organizations. We have unfortunately seen this in the number of Iowa nursing homes that have closed since June 2022.

In this challenging landscape, resilience and a commitment to serving our community drives us forward. Aging services providers are working to find creative solutions and opportunities. Anything we can do to entice individuals to consider a career in aging services has become a priority, and retention of existing workforce is just as important.

We must become the premier employers that individuals seek. Sign-on bonuses only help so much when there are not enough nurses in the workforce to fill the open positions, so providers are offering scholarships to pay for education and remove financial barriers for current and potential employees. They are ensuring that candidates and existing staff alike understand the full breadth of career growth opportunities and are able to take advantage of those opportunities. They are enhancing leadership at all levels to build alignment and enhance loyalty. They are looking closely at wellness programs and addressing burnout to mitigate turnover. They are leveraging technology to maximize the efficiency of the workforce.

In addition to these organization-led strategies, advocacy is critical. Aging services providers need the legislature’s help to increase access and bring more nurses and caregiving professionals into the field and into our state. Expansion of health care training programs, tuition assistance and loan repayment programs and the establishment of wrap-around supports such as affordable housing, transportation, child care and family services all help make careers in healthcare and aging services attainable and attractive. Health care funding across the continuum is necessary to ensure older Iowans have access to care based on their needs and preferences.

I urge you to consider the needs of our growing adult population. Be aware of the trends in our state and country. Encourage others to investigate career opportunities in our field. Think about innovative partnership opportunities.

Older Americans paved the way for the life we live today. As a society, we have a duty to care for those who once cared for us. And, we too will want quality services available when we need them. The time is now.