Direct care workers play a vital role in the day-to-day life of older adults often providing assistance with personal hygiene, light housekeeping, and medication management. Direct care workers play a role in a variety of settings (e.g., home care, nursing home, etc.) and often have different names for similar job titles (e.g., licensed nursing assistant, home health aide, community health workers, etc.). Workers help enhance quality of life for older adults through maintaining independence, and also provide respite and assurance to family caregivers that loved ones are well care for.
Yet against this backdrop, NH faces major challenges. The older adult population is expected to increase exponentially over the next decade, and as people are living longer healthier lives, they want to age at home. This leads to an increase in the growing demand for direct care workers, and as projections show, by 2026, New Hampshire will add 4,030 direct care worker jobs to the labor market. Due to this increase in demand, many families are struggling to find direct care services. Further, low wages, poor benefits, and a lack of career advancement opportunities contribute to difficulties in recruiting and retaining direct care workers.
By bringing together like minded individuals and organizations, The NH Alliance for Healthy Aging seeks to be a convener of ideas around improving conditions for direct care workers, and proactively developing strategies to attract new workers to the field. Beginning in 2016, the NH Alliance for Healthy Aging started the Workforce Workgroup which has focused on two broad strategies:
Strategy 1: Improve direct care worker job quality and increase numbers to meet demand.
The workgroup convened a roundtable discussion among state and local organizations that have focused on improving direct care workforce recruitment and retention efforts. This has led to alignment with other initiatives to reduce duplication of efforts.
Strategy 2: Provide education and awareness of the need for direct care workers.
In 2017, the workgroup partnered with NH PBS and the Endowment for Health to support the release of Call to Care NH. This 30 minute segment outlines the challenges direct care workers face as more people are living longer and the demand of people is growing; and the innovative solutions to create a better future for older people in NH and those that care for them. The workgroup has partnered with communities and stakeholders around the state to host screenings of Call to Care NH and have engaged audience members in conversations about solutions.
The workgroup also hosted a two-part webinar series. First, Call to Care NH: The Direct Care Workforce in the Time of Covid-19 focused on the value direct care workers bring to the health care system, the marked increase in demand, and challenges associated with direct care work during the time of a pandemic. Second, Answering the Call to Care: Creating Quality Jobs for Direct Care Workers in NH, discussed state-based solutions to address the direct care workforce shortage, for example apprenticeship opportunities, state-based programming that targets direct care workers, and policy reforms to increase direct care worker compensation.