Stories from Justice Matters' Fall 2021 listening process highlighted that too many older folks in our community feel warehoused, mistreated, and isolated. They were worried about being able to find quality care that they could afford, they felt confused about how to navigate the complicated systems of care, and they felt nervous about what would happen to them as they lost mobility. At our Community Problems Assembly in October 2021, Justice Matters Members voted overwhelmingly to tackle issues of eldercare. 

During our first research process, it became clear that while Lawrence has been branded as a "great place to retire," we don't have the capacity to care for those retirees once they get older, start losing mobility, and need more assistance. We met with 16 different organizations that had a stake in this issue, and in nearly every meeting, we heard that the biggest barrier to providing eldercare services is finding & keeping qualified staff.  One in-home care provider shared that they would need to hire almost 40 more care providers to meet demand, yet they could barely find enough to replace the 3 staff members that were retiring. The problem was persistent even when organizations could offer competitive wages, and the biggest gap was in more entry-level direct care positions, such as Certified Nursing Assistants or Direct Support Professionals.

It became clear to Justice Matters that the staffing shortages are community wide problem- not a problem at just one individual organization. Higher wages and more training opportunities alone would not solve this problem- we need a career pipeline with incentives to help providers find and retain qualified staff. Through our research, we found a few model programs that have been used in other communities to address staffing shortages, but not one that fit perfectly for our unique needs in Lawrence/Douglas County. 

So, at our 2022 Action Assembly, Justice Matters called on County Commissioner Patrick Kelly to use his role to bring together a workforce development group that can help address the needs of senior care providers in Douglas County. He agreed, and the first gathering will be hosted by Peaslee Tech, to take place this fall. 

Our Elder Care team recognizes that this is a multi-year issue, and we'll need to continue to build people power to get solutions implemented in our community. If you would like to become involved in the Elder Care Team's work, please contact [email protected]