‘Something has to give:’ Senate committee tackles long-term care worker shortages

WASHINGTON D.C. — Nicholas Smith has worked as a direct support professional (DSP) for more than 25 years. His role is to help people with intellectual disabilities in Pennsylvania for the organization SPIN.

“I believe that this is my calling,” Smith told our Washington News Bureau. “I’m proud. I love the work I do.”

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But like so many other long-term care workers, Smith has felt the burden of the industry’s severe staff shortages.

“I am working 60 to 75 hours a work week. So, I give up time with family,” said Smith. “Something has to give though. Right now, you’re seeing across-the-nation shortages.”

Smith shared his experiences with members of the Senate Special Committee on Aging Tuesday as they looked into ways to tackle the long-term care worker crisis.

Lawmakers pointed to a recent survey that revealed around 92 percent of nursing homes and nearly 70 percent of assisted living facilities reported significant worker shortages.

This week, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced a bill that would invest new funding to help increase pay and benefits for long-term care workers. It’s called the Long-Term Care Workforce Support Act.

Casey’s office said the median hourly wage for all direct care professionals was $15.43 in 2022 and said one in eight live in poverty.

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“We have to make these jobs more attractive. That means higher compensation for sure. It means better benefits and treating these individuals like the professionals that we would want taking care of our mother or our father,” Casey told our Washington News Bureau. “The federal government for too long, for generations now, has failed to invest in those workers. We’ve got to do it if we’re going to have the best long-term care in the world.”

But getting Republican support may not be easy. The GOP Ranking Member cautioned against too much federal government involvement.

“We need innovation at the state and local levels to meet this increased demand. We don’t need really a lot more from the federal government,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) during his opening remarks.

Braun said he instead supports a proposal that allows federal Pell grants to be used for high-quality, short-term job training, including for long-term care, and another measure that reviews grant programs for nurses with the goal of creating more pathways into the workforce.

Caregivers like Smith, meanwhile, say it’s essential for lawmakers to make helping the long-term care industry a priority.

“Right now, we have to definitely try to recruit to get more people into the field,” said Smith.

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