Bill to Address Aging Population Hinges on Advancing Direct Care Workforce

Two Pennsylvania lawmakers are launching a federal effort to help improve access to health care for older Americans that hinges largely on the direct care workforce.

The Improving Care for Vulnerable Older Cisizens through Workforce Advancement Act of 2014, introduced this month by Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) and U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), would advance the roles of direct-care workers such as home health aides, personal care aides and certified nurse aides. 

The bill aims to amend Title IV of the Older Americans Act of 1965 to establish six, three-year demonstration projects focused on care coordination and improved delivery of healthcare services for older adults with chronic illness or who are at risk of rehospitalization. 

Among the six projects, two would incorporate direct care workers into care coordination teams in an effort to prevent unnecessary readmissions. Two others would focus on patients with chronic conditions and long term care needs by targeting prescribed care and education of family caregivers. 

The remaining two would assign deeper clinical responsibilities to direct care workers, related so specific conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, congestive heart failure and diabetes. 

“I am proud to work with Senator Casey to address the growing need for improved training and efficient use of direct-care workers,” said Rep. Cartwright. “In Pennsylvania alone, older citizens comprise more than 15 percent of the population, and the direct-care workforce is among the fastest growing occupations in the state. This legislation would help improve the care offered by direct-care workers and lower care costs for both older Americans and the health care industry.”

The Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI) and the Caregiver Action Network both endorsed the bill with favorable comments. 

“This bill recognizes the untapped potential of the direct- care workforce to improve care and lower costs within new care coordination models,” said Steve Edelstein, National Policy Director at PHI. “With adequate training, compensation, and support, a newly created ‘advanced aide’ position could support health promotion, better chronic care management, and care transitions, resulting in less institutionalization and fewer re-hospitalizations.”

Written by Elizabeth Ecker