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Just Think About It!

For providers of Post-Acute Care services, the COVID pandemic has accelerated a problem that has been growing for years-namely that it has become increasingly difficult to find individuals with the work ethic, compassion and dedication required to take on the myriad responsibilities of being a direct care worker serving our frail elderly. The work is physically and mentally challenging. The pay, limited by State and Federal reimbursement practices does not commensurate with the high expectations and critical nature of the work. The percentage of the overall population over the age of 80 is the fastest growing segment of our society. Diligent and creative efforts by PAC providers to recruit willing direct care workers has not kept up with current demand; much less the expanding needs caused by the demographic shifts. Unless the healthcare delivery system is open to alternative ways of expanding the direct care worker supply, we will fail in our mission to offer adequate and respectful resident-focused care to our seniors.

On the U.S. Southern border, there are hundreds of thousands of individuals fleeing poverty and violence in their countries of origin, and who are desperately seeking employment and a safe haven for themselves and their families. Contrary to inflammatory rhetoric about "murderers, drug pushers and rapists", these individuals are largely victims of corrupt, gang infested and violent societies, with women and children comprising a large portion of the immigration wave. Given the opportunity for meaningful employment and security for their families, this group can be a meaningful part of the solution to supplementing our current and inadequate supply of U.S. citizens who are largely unwilling to accept entry level health worker positions.

Every wave of immigrations experienced in our country, from the Irish and Italians at the end of the 19th century, to the Vietnamese boat people in the 1970's, has resulted in a jump start to economic expansion. A coalition of healthcare provider organizations, religious groups and government officials of similar goals and vision could pave the way for establishing a guest worker program predicated on propping up an essential industry. Immigrants who are willing to become direct care workers in the healthcare space could be given the incentive of a path to citizenship. Supportive initiatives, such as English language immersion programs, affordable housing construction and skills training would create new societal employment opportunities, beyond simply addressing the senior care worker shortage.

It is time for practicality to trump nativism and stereotypical prejudices. Our society needs new sources of willing workers, if we are to maintain our obligation and promises to our nations' elders for a dignified and qualitative existence. We can become a more humane safe haven for the dislocated souls currently risking everything for the chance to enter this country. They can contribute to our society in this critical area of need, in the bargain. There is no one else currently in this century waiting in the wings waiting to fill this gap.



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