With a shortage of trained and qualified caregivers, is a crisis looming that will be met with a robotic solution?
We can do better than that.
The Affordable Health Care Act (“Obamacare”) was the most sweeping change to our health care system since the advent of Medicare and Medicaid, albeit with much political tension. Now it’s time to rethink the way in which we serve our aging population, because 78 million aging baby boomers are going to create unprecedented demand for in-home and institutional services.
Between the years of 2010 and 2050, the number of U.S. adults aged 65 and older is projected to rise to 88.5 million individuals, more than double the number of those over the age of 65 in 2010. New Mexico is projected to experience a more rapid growth in this age range, moving it from a state with one of the lowest percentages of elders to having one of the highest by the year 2030. According to the 2010 census figures, the percentage of New Mexico’s population that is age 65 or older is 13.2%, up from 11.7% in 2000. The U.S. Census predicts that New Mexico will move from 16th in the nation to 4th in the percentage of people over the age of 65 by 2030.
The paid caregiver workforce–some 2.5 million strong—is that labor force that provides the day-to-day care for our state’s elderly and those with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Labor counts the direct care occupations (Nursing Assistants, Orderlies and Attendants; Home Health Aides; and Personal Care Assistants) as among the four fastest-growing occupations.
In New Mexico, the paid caregiver workforce is projected to grow from 50,000 in 2010 to more than 60,000 in 2016. And, according to the New Mexico Department of Aging and Long-Term Services, the number of informal or unpaid family caregivers in New Mexico number 210,000, almost four times the number of paid caregivers!
Why not get New Mexicans back to work first?
As Steven Shepelwich of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City notes, credentials for caregivers are uncommon in a field with few standard educational requirements. It’s because state and federal rules make it hard to assess or compare educational requirements, so competencies and quality standards differ from state to state.
Steve Edelstein of PHI National is quoted in the same article as stating that investment in a fairly paid, stable and qualified workforce includes clarifying job competencies and aligning training programs so that health care workers can gain the skills desired by employers. It’s in this way that that caregivers gain job benefits such as health insurance, sick leave and paid vacations.
The New Mexico Direct Caregivers Coalition advocates for caregivers, promoting education, training and credentialing so that they can gain access to better wages, benefits and so they are valued by their employers. We believe that these kinds of investments increase productivity, reduce turnover and result higher quality care.
Let’s invest in New Mexico caregivers. Then we’ll see about roboticare.
Adrienne R. Smith is Founder and President of the New Mexico Direct Caregivers Coalition.
For more information, contact her at 505-867-6046 or visit:
 Con Alma Health Foundation and New Mexico Association of Grantmakers:“EngAGE New Mexico: Promoting and Strengthening Grantmaking in New Mexico to support an Aging Population,” (Oct 2012).
 These are only those who count direct caregiving as their primary or only occupation. The figure does not include those working in the informal labor force.