The last of the baby boomers was born on Dec. 31, 1964, which means in two years, the youngest will be turning 60. As a simple statistic, that might not seem particularly interesting — except perhaps as the answer to a trivia question; however, according to Pembroke, North Carolina-based home health care providers HealthKeeperz, which has been serving seniors and their families for more than three decades, America’s aging population is anything but a trivial matter.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Americans aged 65 and older was 56.1 million in 2020. By 2060, that figure will hit 94.7 million, or 23% of the population. With a head count clocking in at about 76 million members as the baby boomer generation gets older, HealthKeeperz warns their routine and not-so-routine health care needs are going to grow exponentially, putting a serious strain on an infrastructure that’s ill-equipped to deal with it.
“Understanding the effects of the relative size of the baby boom (those born between 1946 and 1964), compared to preceding and succeeding age cohorts, is essential to anticipating the demand for long-term services and supports (LTSS) for this cohort and the potential availability of family caregivers,” AARP stated. The demographics aren’t encouraging.
For example, AARP reported that in 2010, the caregiver support ratio exceeded seven potential caregivers for every person in the high-risk category of 80 and older. By 2030, they estimate that ratio will decline to 4-to-1; by 2050, it’s projected to fall to 3-to-1 — just about the same time “when all boomers will be in the high-risk years of late life.”
HealthKeeperz Addresses the Caregiver Shortage
As if that’s not troubling enough, HealthKeeperz cautions that the need for qualified home health and personal care aides already far outstrips the number of workers available to fill the positions. Seniors and patients with chronic conditions requiring services routinely face protracted waiting times in their search for much-needed help. The situation has only been exacerbated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the national workforce, as home- and community-based services workers on the lower end of the pay scale fled the field to pursue more lucrative, less demanding employment once opportunities opened up in the retail and service sectors as pandemic restrictions eased.
“We face a staggering shortage of qualified care providers for older adults, a deficiency that runs through the entire spectrum, from physicians, nurses, and social workers to direct care workers,” wrote John W. Rowe, M.D., a professor of health policy and management at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York City for an article in Social Work Today. “What will we have accomplished if we find a way to pay for the care but don’t have qualified providers to deliver it?”
The U.S. Government Response to the Growing Health Care Worker Gap
It’s a frightening question — and one the current administration has taken steps to address. President Joe Biden has officially recognized the crucial role caregivers play in supporting the health and wellness of veterans and the general public. As part of the Budget of the United States Government Fiscal Year 2023, the president approved funding for the Program of General Caregivers Support Services and also earmarked $1.8 billion for the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers, “which includes stipend payments and support services to help empower family caregivers of eligible veterans.”
Moving forward, HealthKeeperz maintains that while recruiting, training, and most importantly, retaining new health care talent will be part of the ongoing effort in the battle to better balance the caregiver to patient ratio, advances in home health technology and new patient care models may also offer potential solutions that will go a long way toward easing the overburdened health care system, both logistically and financially.
To further such initiatives, in addition to support for caregivers, Biden also pledged support for “extending telehealth coverage under Medicare beyond the COVID-19 public health emergency to study its impact on utilization of services and access to care.” While still in its early days, telehealth — especially when used in conjunction with remote patient monitoring — has already shown great promise in lowering medical costs for patients, providers, and the governmental agencies that serve and regulate the home health care industry.
HealthKeeperz on Emerging Private-Sector Home Health Solutions
While the government is doing its part to bolster the home- and community-based services workforce and generally improve health care delivery to seniors across the board, there are also some exciting innovations in care-related technology coming out of the private sector that include enhanced video conferencing to facilitate communication between patients, family members, and medical staff; targeted stress reduction content creation and dissemination aimed at calming Alzheimer’s patients; and even advanced speaker systems embedded in pillows to help bed-bound patients better hear audio from televisions and other devices.
Additionally, many hospitals are upping their game with new protocols that offer seniors better care while simultaneously improving the bottom line for providers. One such initiative is the Hospital-at-Home Program, which delivers hospital-level care in a home environment via a team of doctors, nurses, and home health aides. This model relies on both in-person patient visits and telehealth conferencing, and also provides necessary equipment for routine treatments including IV infusions and oxygen therapy. Along with fewer hospital readmissions for elderly patients, the American Hospital Association has stated that in comparison to traditional models, the Hospital-at-Home Program has reduced costs, improved outcomes, and enhanced the patient experience.
The patient coordinators at HealthKeeperz, who have always made listening to seniors’ concerns a top priority, say another valuable senior protocol many enlightened health providers are implementing is what’s called the 4Ms Framework. Not a program, the 4Ms are a set of essential, interrelated guidelines that center on “medication (employing careful oversight to prevent overmedication), mentation (efforts to identify, prevent, treat, and manage symptoms of dementia and depression in care settings), mobility (improve mobility while lowering risk of falls), and what matters to elderly patients (often staying in the home for as long as feasibly possible).”
Steps To Take if You or a Loved One Needs Elder Care Now
Selecting a home health care agency for yourself or an elderly family member is often one of the most challenging life choices seniors face. Finding the provider that best suits your needs when faced with so many options can be confusing. However, the expert staff at HealthKeeperz stresses that when deciding on an optimal senior care option, certain criteria must always be met.
First, check out excellence of care. Look for a provider with positive consumer feedback as well as high ratings from the appropriate licensing authorities in your area. Does it have a reputation for compassion, respect, and professionalism? Check for certifications, and find out what additional and/or ongoing training its staff receives to bolster their skills and help them best understand the specific needs of elderly patients.
Next, be aware of the prioritization of safety. Check into what steps a provider has taken to ensure the safety of the patients it serves. Does it offer a guarantee from any harm or abuse of patients? Has its staff been trained in the proper use of equipment, and does that equipment meet accepted safety standards? Has the team been properly trained in the dispensation of medicines and therapeutic treatments?
Consistent data gathering and reliable record keeping are crucial. A superior home care provider routinely checks patients’ conditions, conducts regular testing, and keeps scrupulous records. This information is vital in keeping track of a patient’s status and is used to alert medical staff when conditions change or deteriorate and further intervention is required.
Look for senior-specific care that’s also diverse. When it comes to health care needs, all seniors are not created equal. Some require complex regimens of medication and treatments, while others need help with daily activities such as hygiene assistance, shopping, and food preparation. Make sure the agency you select offers all of the services you require now — and may require in the future.
Transparency and communication are key. A superior service provider is always open to hearing client concerns and answering care-related questions. They should also take appropriate steps to resolve any issues that arise and apprise clients and their families of solutions as they are implemented.
Be thorough with caregiver screening. A reliable service provider performs background checks on all employees who come in contact with clients. When hiring caregivers, an agency should attempt to find employees who have an affinity for seniors and ideally, specific training in elder care.
Lastly, look for shared values. Due to the fact that HealthKeeperz is a faith-based organization, it has a unique understanding of just how vital a sense of community is to the people it serves. The staff notes that clients who’ve led faith-forward lives gain tremendous comfort and security from being surrounded by an uplifting group of people whose beliefs and values align with their own. When selecting a care provider for a deeply religious person, be sure to ask the agency what kind of spiritual counseling they provide and which religious tenets they adhere to.