Last year, Republicans sent a bill to Governor Tony Evers’s desk that would have lowered the number of required training hours for nursing aides, but Evers vetoed it.
This Wednesday, Republicans will convene to try overriding the veto and pass the bill. If they succeed, it will be the first veto override in Wisconsin since 1985.
A 2018 healthcare workforce report conducted by several Wisconsin healthcare providers found that over 16,000 caregiver positions, or almost one fifth of all caregiver positions in Wisconsin, are unfilled.
This is a problem for Wisconsin, where the population is becoming, older on average.
As of 2010, 26 percent of Wisconsinites were 55 or older. A study from the state’s Department of Health Services found that by 2040, that will grow to 35 percent.
John Vander Meer, the president and CEO of the Wisconsin Health Care Association, says the long training period is one obstacle to filling these positions.
“What this legislation is designed to do is to ensure that we have the workforce that we need in order to be in a position to provide that high-quality care,” Vander Meer says. “As a result of the regulatory environment in the state of Wisconsin, it limits the ability of providers to be in a position to have some of the staff that they need to advance excellence in the quality of care that they provide.”
Wisconsin requires 120 hours of training for nursing aides. The federal requirement is 75.
Vander Meer’s statement is echoed by the bill’s supporters, including Wisconsin Senator Robert Cowles.
Cowles released a statement last November saying the bill would “help students become the caretakers that the residents of these facilities deserve sooner.”
But, opponents of the bill, including Governor Evers, worry that it would lower the quality of healthcare overall. In his veto message Evers said that stricter training requirements ensure high-quality healthcare while also lowering turnover rates.
And retention is a problem in Wisconsin’s healthcare industry. The 2018 healthcare workforce study found that in 2017 an estimated 10,700 caregivers left the industry to work elsewhere.
Janet Zander is a spokesperson for the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources, a nonprofit aging advocacy group that registered against the bill.
She says this is the bigger problem.
“Those are low-wage jobs with [a] high injury rate. It’s a difficult job” Zander says.
“You can imagine they’re doing personal cares, they’re getting very low wages, in some cases very low benefits, and it’s not the easiest work to do, so many of these folks are leaving the industry to take jobs working at, we use the Kwik Trip example a lot, but also retail stores and et cetera are paying as much without having to deal with the kind of work they were doing, and without having to risk injury to themselves.”
The 2018 study also found that the median hourly wage for healthcare workers was lower than the hourly wage for unskilled entry-level workers in non-health care fields.
The state assembly first voted on the bill in May, where three Democrats, Steve Doyle, Beth Meyers, and Don Vruwink, joined every Republican in voting for the bill. In total, the bill received sixty-six votes.
If 66 legislators vote to override the veto on Wednesday, the bill will become law.