Minnesota Takes on the Caregiving Crisis

Minnesota Takes on the Caregiving Crisis
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

As with other parts of the country, Minnesota's older population is rapidly growing—one in five people will be 65 and older by 2030. Yet a new study from PHI, the country's leading expert on the direct care workforce, has found that the state struggles to find paid caregivers for this population, largely because likely candidates are leaving the sector due to low pay, limited training, and few advancement opportunities, among other factors. These challenges are worse in rural areas, where home care workers are in short supply, and often must travel hours to reach geographically dispersed clients.

This week, LeadingAge Minnesota is bringing together nearly 300 aging and workforce professionals from across the state to examine the workforce needs of the state's elder population. As this conference begins, its President and CEO Gayle Kvenvold spoke with me about the opportunities these aging trends present for Minnesota's leaders, as well as what other states can learn from their successes.

Robert Espinoza: Tell us a bit about the work that LeadingAge Minnesota leads to support older people throughout the state.

Gayle Kvenvold: Our mission is to enhance the experience of aging and to do this we advocate for policies that support independence and choice for aging Minnesotans; seek to elevate the valued and rewarding profession of caregiving; provide education and training to ensure the highest quality services and supports; and partner with a broad spectrum of organizations to help older adults age well and live fully. In these efforts, we work alongside our 1,100 members and more than 50,000 caregivers as they serve nearly 70,000 older adults in all the places they call home.

RE: PHI’s research shows that by 2030, 1 in 5 Minnesotans will be age 65 and older. What opportunities does this provide for the aging field?

GK: It provides enormous opportunities – to re-think and redesign service delivery, especially how we work together with health systems, to re-think work for the both the younger and the older worker and to how harness new technologies to sustain independence. This period of dramatic demographic change means we can’t keep things the way we have always done them and I believe that will fuel enormous innovation and creativity. Too often this demographic shift gets painted with a negative brush -- people using terms like “silver tsunami” or other devastating images of a graying America. The question of whether we frame this shift as a drain or an incredible opportunity to grow and advance is entirely up to us.

RE: Our new research report also shows a growing workforce shortage in home care workers, spurred by high turnover and the competition for workers among home care, fast food, and the retail industry. What can Minnesota do to strengthen the home care workforce?

GK: The recruitment, retention and development of caregivers is our highest priority. We are leading efforts aimed at increasing people’s awareness and appreciation for the many rewarding careers working alongside older adults, and introducing careers in aging to high schoolers and new generations of potential caregivers. We are also working to enhance the employment experience, ensuring that all caregivers have family-sustaining wages and benefits, tools, training and workplace supports to help them succeed, and opportunities for career ladders. At the heart of our efforts is nothing short of systemic change for how society values and honors caregiving careers.

RE: Rural areas are especially challenging for delivering home care—large geographic areas and fewer health-related resources, including home care workers. How are long-term care providers supporting older people in rural areas?

GK: We are building on the community assets already in place – bringing together long term care providers health and social service providers, civic leaders, consumer advocates, area agencies on aging, local businesses to explore how we can together create rural resource hubs to help elders and their families access the services they need. We are testing some of these navigation models right now in rural communities in Minnesota, and one of our early findings is that providers and consumers are often unaware of the full range of services and supports in their own communities. We also believe that telehealth and other technologies will be key in delivering home care and addressing the isolation that an elder might be more likely to experience in a rural setting.

RE: Over the years, LeadingAge Minnesota has provided a powerful advocacy voice for older people, caregivers, and providers. What are a few needed policy reforms to improve home care in the state?

GK: Our policy priorities are focused on increasing awareness of valued careers in aging services, advancing reimbursement systems that not only incentivize quality and innovation, but provide support for livable wages and benefits, and on education and training programs that move caregivers forward in their careers.

RE: What are your priorities for 2017?

GK: One of our core priorities this year is state funding for a career awareness campaign aimed at attracting new workers to caregiving careers. We also are advocating the development of a state-funded innovation fund to provide grants for promising workforce solutions, and expansion of our state’s scholarship and loan forgiveness programs for those working in home care and caregiving careers. In addition, we are advancing a comprehensive reform of the state’s funding program for home-based services, with the objective of increasing wages and benefits for caregivers and strengthening incentives for improving quality.

RE: What would you tell someone who wants to know what it’s like to grow older in Minnesota?

GK: I would say, “Welcome to the state with one of the longest and healthiest life expectancies, that has received the highest rating in the nation for the services and supports it makes available to seniors, that is committed to ensuring that citizens can grow old in the setting and community they call home, that pioneered the concept of dementia friendly communities and to the state that believes all its citizens have the right to a dignified aging.” I would add that we don’t just talk about collaboration as a way of advancing change, we actually do it! And the winters aren’t that bad.

PHI works to transform eldercare and disability services. We foster dignity, respect, and independence—for all who receive care, and all who provide it. As the nation’s leading authority on the direct care workforce, PHI promotes quality direct care jobs as the foundation for quality care.

Learn more about PHI at PHInational.org or 60CaregiverIssues.org.

Popular in the Community


What's Hot