Retooling for an Aging America

Building the Health Care Workforce

The health care workforce must prepare for a rising number of older adults with special health care needs beyond what it has experienced in the past. This new Institute of Medicine (IOM) report calls for fundamental reforms to help us manage this change.

As the nation's 78 million baby boomers reach retirement age in 2011, they will face a health care workforce that is too small and woefully inadequate to meet their needs, according to a new report published by the IOM. Older adults experience complex health care needs, specifically for certain chronic conditions, such as dementia, diabetes and hypertension. Moreover, geriatric care currently attracts fewer people and suffers higher turnover rates among care workers than other specialties. For example, turnover among nurses aides averages 71 percent annually, while up to 90 percent of home health aides leave their jobs within two years.

Immediate steps need to be taken to increase overall workforce and to address major shortages. Workers need to work more efficiently—at maximum competency level—and with an increased flexibility of roles. Additionally, the entire health care workforce, including both formal and informal caregivers, need to have the requisite data, knowledge and tools to provide high-quality care for older patients. Next steps necessary to improve the ability of the health care workforce to care for older Americans are:

  • enhance the competence of all individuals in the delivery of geriatric care;
  • increase the recruitment and retention of geriatric specialists and caregivers; and
  • redesign models of care and broaden provider and patient roles to achieve greater
    flexibility.

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