Last week, I met some of senior living’s biggest advocates at Argentum’s Public Policy Institute & Fly-In. The two-day member event allows us to discuss legislative and regulatory challenges in senior living and how to promote solutions with key members of Congress.
It was an enlightening couple of days in Washington D.C. On the first day, several industry leaders and experts prepped attendees on policy updates and offered tips for making the most of our meetings with legislators. On day two, they released us into the wild to push the senior living mission on Capitol Hill.
Careers In Aging Week, an initiative focused on raising awareness about our line of work, was front and center during the event. It was so nice to be able to promote the event with aging services professionals from around the country that are proud of what they do. And who doesn’t love a good photo op?
The Careers In Aging Week focus was an excellent segue into one of the topics we advocated for during the Hill Meetings: solutions for solving the workforce crisis in senior living. On a panel on workforce development during that first day of prep, Emily DeRocco, CEO of E3, said something that excellently summed up how crucial a sustainable workforce is to the future of our industry: “It all starts and ends with the workforce – and one that is qualified, dedicated, committed.”
90% of senior living communities report a shortage of licensed RNs, caregivers and other critical staff. Not only are we tasked with finding 1.4 million workers in the next ten years, but we must sift through the pool of applicants and find the ones that are truly aligned with our mission. Unfortunately, caring for seniors isn’t for everyone and we need to identify those that have the caregiver spirit.
We stressed to policymakers how they can have a huge impact by supporting education and awareness for high-demand careers like senior living. We also pointed out that senior living is a growing industry that’s driving job growth and economic development, that there are significant career opportunities throughout the industry.
Other topics that we covered were the retirement security crisis and the growing threat of federal regulation in senior living. Speaker Connie Garner, Vice President for Disability Policy & Education Policy, ML Strategies, told attendees that 1 in 3 Americans have less than $5,000 saved for their retirement. This stat nearly knocked me out of my seat when I heard it. We communicated to legislators the importance of retirement planning from a young age and how certain policies that are currently on the table could help.
With regards to potential federal regulation in senior living, we talked to reps about why we should keep assisted living, memory care and CCRCs regulated at the state level and stressed that doing so helps communities meet resident needs in each state. We are held accountable to resident safety and upholding state requirements through regular, unannounced surveys (inspections) of our buildings. We also pointed out that senior living remains a very popular option for seniors as alternatives to institutional settings such as skilled nursing facilities and that resident satisfaction in these settings remains at or above 90%.
The photo to the right shows me after my meeting with Ohio (R) Senator Rob Portman during his weekly Coffee Constituency. We talked about workforce challenges and the retirement crisis seniors are facing with being required to withdraw their 401K/IRA savings at 70.5 years old - which it is impacting their ability to pay for senior housing. His eyes lit up and it was nice to see that he genuinely cares about our challenges. He then had me meet his team members that lead the efforts on those topics.
I learned that the workforce is a huge priority for them too and they asked a lot of questions about the innovative approaches we’ll put in place to solve the crisis.
I walked away from the event feeling like Washington has our back, and most importantly, we have each other’s. Organizations like Argentum are leading the charge and I’m so proud to be a part of that. They did a fantastic job of equipping us with the talking points and tools we needed to successfully advocate for the senior living industry.
1 Image courtesy of Argentum