Yesterday marked the start of Careers In Aging Week 2021. I vividly remember writing last year’s blog post at the very start of the pandemic. What was historically a celebratory moment was anything but. Although none of us knew the devastation that lay ahead, I think we all had a sense that this was going to get bad - which it did. It was an incredibly challenging year for all of us, but especially for those working in aging services.
As I reflect on the events that have unfolded since then, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for staying strong when your residents needed you most. Thank you for making unimaginable sacrifices to keep residents feeling connected, supported and in good spirits during periods of isolation. Thank you for demonstrating unprecedented levels of selflessness, no matter how bad things got. Thank you for, despite what many news outlets portrayed, showing the world how special and critical this line of work is.
I have high hopes that the events of the past year will encourage our government to prioritize our industry’s needs, and more specifically, help to professionalize the caregiving role.
At the forefront of this fight is The National Association of Health Care Assistants (NACHA). The group recently orchestrated a “Virtual March on Washington,” where industry leaders and advocates pushed for government-funded wage increases for CNAs - $13-$16/hour, with a pathway toward $22/hour with self-investment.
During the online event, NACHA Co-Founder and CEO Lori Porter stressed the important role that those on the front lines have played in fighting the virus. “The pandemic showed the world that CNAs make a real and powerful difference,” she said.
NACHA’s other goals include making caregiving, which has historically been seen as an entry-level job, a respected career. They plan to accomplish this by instituting better training, clear paths for advancement, and a recruitment and placement platform to attract the next generation of CNAs.
“The truth is that the CNA profession has not been recognized at both the pay level and the benefits level that it needs to be to support what the folks deserve and also to create a long-term career path,” Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA/NCAL, told March attendees. “I’m still amazed when I see the average wage for a CNA in some parts of the country is well below $15/hour and it needs to be fixed.”
We all know that change won’t be easy,” added LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan. “Real change never is. But as a society, we simply must value care workers, older people and the aging services sector that supports all of us.”
These efforts from NACHA, as well as associations such as AHCA/NCAL and LeadingAge, will be critical to help CNAs live better lives and to attract future CNAs to this wonderful, fulfilling line of work.
In addition to taking part in The Gerontological Society of America’s planned activities, I encourage community leadership to use this week to get involved in NACHA’s efforts. Their CNA Advocacy Center shares educational resources, templates, and tools to make taking action as simple and effective as possible.
During the NACHA march, Parkinson hit the nail on the head when he said, “People have finally recognized that CNAs are the heroes that many of us have known for a long time.” Happy Careers In Aging Week and here’s to a well-deserved, long-overdue, brighter future for our caregivers.