Aging Initiatives Advocated

— Lyn Stoesen, News Staff


A new report released by the Institute of Medicine* shows a geriatric care workforce that is too small and that is unprepared to meet the needs of aging baby boomers. The report urges bold initiatives to train the health care workforce to meet the growing demand.

The report, Retooling for an Aging America: Building the Health Care Workforce, was released on April 14 in Washington, D.C. The report was prepared by the Committee on the Future Health Care Workforce for Older Americans, convened in 2007 by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. NASW member Paula Allen-Meares is among the 15 members of the committee.

Allen-Meares until recently was dean and Norma Radin Collegiate Professor of Social Work and professor of education at the University of Michigan School of Social Work. She has served as chair of NASW's Publications Committee and in other positions. In addition to being a member of the Institute of Medicine, Allen-Meares is part of the New York Academy of Medicine's panel on long-term care issues in the United States.

The report offers recommendations in three categories: enhancing geriatric competence; increasing recruitment and retention; and redesigning models of care. It also recommends that Congress require an annual report from the Bureau of Health Professions to monitor progress in addressing the health care workforce for older adults.

"The United States today faces enormous challenges as the baby boom generation nears retirement age. . . ," the report states. "The nation needs to act now to prepare the health care workforce to meet the care needs of older adults. If current reimbursement policies and workforce trends continue, the nation will continue to fail to ensure that every older American is able to receive high-quality care."

Tracy WhitakerDuring a briefing on the release of the report, NASW Center for Workforce Studies Director Tracy Whitaker thanked the committee for its use of social work workforce data from the center in preparing the report. She addressed the tension between recruitment and retention of workforce, noting that a factor in social work workforce attrition is non-social-workers performing social work job duties.

John Rowe, who chaired the IOM committee that prepared the report, noted the importance of appropriate delegation of job responsibilities so that staff can perform duties they have been trained for. Carol Raphael, another member of the committee, said that the geriatric care workforce should think more about the roles and responsibilities of care-team members.

The report "serves as a call for fundamental reform in the way the workforce is trained and used to care for older adults," it states.

"While the impending demands on the health care system have been recognized for decades, little has been done to prepare for the years ahead," the report concludes. "The nation needs to move quickly and efficiently to make certain that the health care workforce increases in size and has the proper education and training to handle the needs of a new generation of older Americans."

* Now the National Academy of Medicine.