Every two years since 2016, a coalition of four healthcare provider associations has released a report on the state of Wisconsin’s healthcare workforce.
In 2018, the report found that nearly one fifth of all caregiver positions in the state were vacant.
The 2020 installment, released earlier today, finds that the state’s workforce shortage has grown, with a quarter of all direct caregiver positions in nursing homes and assisted living facilities unfilled.
John Vander Meer is the President of the Wisconsin Health Care Association and Wisconsin Center for Assisted Living, one of the care provider associations that helped collect data for the 2020 workforce shortage report.
He says the report’s findings are particularly troubling given that Wisconsin’s aging population is set to grow.
“According to the information that is available from the state, the percentage of people in Wisconsin age 85 and older is projected to increase 112 percent in the next twenty years, and we should see an annual growth in personal care and service occupations at more than 17 percent,” Vander Meer says.
An estimated 9,700 caregivers left their positions for jobs outside of healthcare in the past year.
Vander Meer also says providers can’t increase wages because of inadequate Medicaid and Family Care reimbursements.
“Wisconsin’s nursing homes have the highest losses out of any state in the nation according to a survey. Facilities lose between $78 and $80 a day for every Medicaid resident that they serve,” Vander Meer says.
“With Medicaid, in terms of [providers’] case mix, comprising about two-thirds of the residents served in Wisconsin’s nursing homes, that means that facilities are already, at the beginning of the year, starting about a million dollars behind in terms of their budget.”
A 2019 report from the Survival Coalition of Wisconsin, a cross-disability coalition of more than 40 state and local organizations and groups, finds that the average wage for a caregiver is close to $10.50 an hour.
Last year, a bipartisan group of legislators sought to address this shortage with a bill that would have reduced the number of hours required to become a nursing aide from 120 hours to 75. Governor Evers vetoed that bill last November.
Helen Marks Dicks is the Associate State Director of AARP Wisconsin and a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Caregiving.
She says that simply reducing hours needed to become a nursing assistant without addressing why caregivers are leaving the industry won’t solve the shortage.
“One of the big problems is reimbursement rates, [another one] of the big problems is a lot of people who go through these programs end up not becoming CNAs, they go through the program because they’re trying to get into nursing school, [another problem is that] the wages are just so poor that the retention isn’t there because people can get less demanding jobs that pay better in their own communities,” Marks Dicks says.
Marks Dicks also says the present workforce shortage is particularly acute given the training and skill required to become a nursing assistant, but isn’t unique to the industry.
“We all talk about the [Baby Boomers] retiring and needing care, but what we don’t talk about is, number one, a lot of people are going to be working longer, but [number two], a lot of people are going to be leaving [their] professions and we don’t have an adequate number of people to fill in those jobs,” Marks Dicks says.
The full task force is scheduled to meet three more times before the end of October.
Members of the public who want to offer recommendations to the task force can leave a comment at gtfc.wisconsin.gov.