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.
In 2022, 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.
Our goal for the 2023 research process was to find a model program addressing the shortage of staff in healthcare. We were surprised to find Dwyer Workforce Development. This nonprofit agency has only existed 1 year, but in that time they had 250 scholars graduate with their CNA in Baltimore, Maryland. Imagine the impact to the in-home care agency if there were even just 40 additional CNA graduates here in Douglas County. Dwyer Workforce Development is based in Baltimore but has expanded to Texas and Florida. Applicants to their program have to be those living in systemic poverty and agree to complete one year of CNA training and work experience. When they are approved Dwyer provides intensive case management to assess the individual's needs. Once obstacles are identified, they offer wraparound services.
At our 2023 Action Assembly, Justice Matters called on County Commissioner Patrick Kelly to use his role to bring together Dwyer Workforce Development, Heartland Workforce Development, and our elder care committee to discuss the implementation of Dwyer's program in Douglas County. That gathering took place on August 3, 2023. Dwyer's staff did mention ways their program could provide further support to the existing structure.
Our Elder Care team will ask about steps taken towards implementation in this coming research cycle. We recognize that 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].