Who Will Care For Us?

By Westmoreland County Commissioner Ted Kopas

There is a looming crisis in Pennsylvania, one that will impact families throughout Westmoreland County. Who will care for our aged family members and loved ones?

It’s difficult to find a family who does not have older members in need of some Long-Term Services and Supports (LTSS). Pennsylvania’s changing demographics pose significant challenges, as approximately 70 percent of people turning 65, on average, will need some type of LTSS during their lives. With the fifth oldest population in the nation, nearly a quarter of Pennsylvania’s 12.8 million residents are age 60 or older. In just another decade, the population of older adults is expected to increase by 26 percent. In Westmoreland County, the challenge is even more profound as more than 22 percent of our population is already 65 or older.

Direct care workers are the keystone of the LTSS system, helping older residents and people with disabilities remain connected to their communities and live as fully and independently as possible. They are personal care aides, home health aides, nursing assistants and others, who help consumers with daily living such as bathing, dressing, toileting, eating and other tasks. These workers are often overworked, underpaid, and many live in or near poverty. They are overwhelmingly women (86 percent).

By 2026, Pennsylvania will need 37,000 more direct care workers. And we need to do more for them.

That is the goal of “A Blueprint for Strengthening Pennsylvania’s Direct Care Workforce”, the first product of Pennsylvania’s Long-Term Care Council. I was appointed by Governor Tom Wolf to represent all of Pennsylvania’s counties on the 35-member Council, consisting of caregivers, lawmakers, state agency members, healthcare professionals and advocates. The Blueprint is a culmination of more than a year-and-a-half of work and was sent to the governor and state legislature this month.

The actions we are proposing are critical to ensuring more workers enter and remain in the direct care workforce, so that the needs of those who are older or disabled can be met both now and in the future. Our recommendations:

  • Create a statewide public awareness campaign and targeted events to emphasize the need to recruit and retain workers, as well as the value of these professions.
  • Establish a standardized core training and credentialing system for direct care workers, providing career pathways through the continuum of long-term services and supports.
  • Establish a minimum starting wage of $15 an hour for direct care workers by 2025, with annual increases tied to inflation.
  • Implement standardized data tracking, reporting and training of direct care workforce quality indicators across long-term services and supports settings.
  • Require integration of direct care workers into person-centered planning teams by long-term services and supports providers and health plans.
  • Expand the availability of technology supports for both direct care workers and long-term services and supports participants (e.g. assistive technology tools).
  • Implement incentives to encourage college students to enter the direct care workforce and for students, volunteers and others to provide supports for older adults and the disabled.

As part of our findings, we identified the barriers inherent with these bold actions. There will no doubt be funding challenges. It will require forward-thinking by legislators and policy-makers. But continued inaction will only worsen conditions, given our aging population and increasingly complex chronic conditions. The time for action is now. Our Blueprint provides the path. Our families are depending it.

(Ted Kopas has served as Westmoreland County Commissioner since 2010. He can be reached at 724.830.3102,
tkopas@co.westmoreland.pa.us
or
www.TedKopas.com
. You can access the report by visiting the Department of Aging’s website under “organization/long-term care council”.)