Health Care Work Force Unprepared For Aging Baby Boomers

Armen Hareyan's picture
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As the first of the nation's 78 million baby boomers begin reaching age 65 in 2011, they will face a health care work force that is too small and woefully unprepared to meet their specific health needs, says a new report from the Institute of Medicine. The report calls for bold initiatives starting immediately to train all health care providers -- not just specialists -- in the basics of geriatric care and to prepare family members and other informal caregivers, who currently receive little or no training in how to tend to their aging loved ones. Medicare, Medicaid, and other health plans should pay higher rates to boost recruitment and retention of geriatric specialists and care aides, said the committee that wrote the report.

"By 2030, one in every five Americans will be 65 or older. We face an impending crisis as the growing number of older patients, who are living longer with more complex health needs, increasingly outpaces the number of health care providers with the knowledge and skills to care for them capably," said committee chair John W. Rowe, professor of health policy and management, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York City.

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Medicare, Medicaid, and other health plans need to pay higher rates for the services of geriatric specialists and direct-care workers to attract more health professionals to geriatric careers and stanch the high turnover rates among nursing assistants and personal care aides, many of whom earn wages below the poverty level.

Almost all health care providers treat older patients to some extent, so they need a minimal level of competence in treating the common health problems related to aging, the committee concluded. All health professional schools and training programs should expand coursework and training in the care of older individuals.

Between 29 million and 52 million family members, friends, and others tend to aging parents or other older individuals. The report calls for training programs to help these informal caregivers provide proper assistance to their loved ones and to alleviate the stress that can come from coping with an older person's needs.

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