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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Long-term care concerns will be coming shortly

Jon Snyder

For decades, we’ve been talking about what happens when baby boomers raised in the prosperous 1950s and ’60s became old, and a burden on future generations. The waiting is almost over.

Within the next decade, 25 percent of Spokane residents will be 65 or older. Statewide, one in five Washingtonians will be older than 65 by 2030.

The age wave represents opportunities and challenges. Thanks to advances in medicine and healthier lifestyles, we’ll have more people able to volunteer and help our community thrive. But we’ll also have more people than ever who will require long-term care services.

The hard truth is that Spokane and the state are woefully underprepared to manage this coming “silver tsunami” of older Americans.

Today in Spokane, more than 2,700 individuals receive home care services through the Washington Department of Social and Health Services. That number is only going to increase. So who provides care for this burgeoning population?

Washington already has a 45,000-plus-person workforce of home care providers. But state budget cuts and low wages have hit this workforce hard.

Statewide, one in five people who care for seniors and people with disabilities lives in poverty, making barely more than $10 per hour on average. Up to one-half will be forced to leave the field this year, according to recent reports. This high turnover not only increases costs but also will make it increasingly difficult to recruit enough caregivers to care for the growing senior population in our state.

Demand for long-term care will increase by 56 percent over the next 20 years, meaning the state will need an estimated 35,000 more home-care workers. Without proper wages and training, the burden to the state and our community will be devastating.

Increased use of home- and community-based alternatives to meet long-term care needs has saved more than $3.34 billion since 1996. But over the past several years, the Legislature has targeted the long-term-care system for budget cuts, slashing more than 14 percent of home-care hours for vulnerable clients, eliminating quality training standards and sending even more home-care workers into poverty.

Most workers leaving home care say they want a job that has career-advancement and skill-development opportunities. Increased training standards required under voter-approved Initiative 1163 are steps in the right direction. When and if the Legislature passes a final budget this year, it hopefully will include modest improvements for home care workers.

Still, we are all stuck with the reality that we are woefully unprepared for the projected increases in the senior population and demand for long-term-care services.

According to a 2012 report prepared by Service Employees International Union Healthcare 775NW, the state’s long-term care workers union, “The level of poverty among Washington’s home-care worker households is 6.6 percent higher than the national average and 9.1 percent higher than the statewide average.”

This isn’t a recipe for meeting the future workforce demand and ensuring quality care, so Caring Across Generations is working nationally to ensure quality care is there.

The Spokesman-Review has pointed to the need to adopt long-term reforms to create a sustainable, caring community.  Few challenges are more pressing than the growing senior population and the demand it will place on long-term-care services.

Jon Snyder is a member of the Spokane City Council.