Retirees could be the best answer to the ongoing caregiver crisis

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It’s no secret the caregiver crisis is getting worse. Organizations like ours are fielding few applicants, and many no-shows for interviews, for the abundant positions we have open in caregiving for a variety of situations.

When this happens, Community Mental Health contracts go unfulfilled, and individuals who need care don’t receive it. We want to serve and support those in need; they need this service and support from us or agencies like ours. Without caring individuals who are willing to work in caregiving roles, we are all in a bind.

This is why I think the best resolution to this crisis is to inspire and encourage retirees to get back in the workforce to help others as paid caregivers.

It’s a win-win if you think about it. Once a person retires, they don’t need or want the same hours or income that they sought when fully employed. They may be ready to give back with an added bonus of some post-retirement revenue padding their fixed income.

Plus, people who have lived longer and experienced much bring patience and perspective that is so needed in caregiving roles.

It’s worth a try because nothing else seems to be working. The service industry continues to increase pay for caregivers. Our state reimbursement rates have increased, but it’s a direct pass-through to support this wage increase. That doesn’t do anything but keep us all competing with each other. Plus, the numbers don’t add up; we have to give 100% of the increase we receive to cover the hourly rate of our people without accounting for taxes and benefits.

It’s a tough nut to crack. We are competitive with one another but not with less meaningful jobs like working an hourly retail or fast food position for $15-16 per hour.

While we believe in paying a living wage and raising the minimum wage to meet caregiving demand, we have to think beyond these notions to get people in these positions today. The baby boomers who work for us in caregiving are some of our most committed and passionate people.

In direct support positions, caring for people with intellectual/emotional disabilities, our retiree personnel have an opportunity to create purpose in their work and make an impact without having to work a 9-5 grind. These positions can be more flexible even as they become more meaningful, serving some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.

Basically, retirees can write their own ticket in such positions with the flexibility to work only two or three shifts a week, dictating their new normal and reinventing their skills and opportunities.

In 2018, Americans age 55 and older made up half of all employment gains, according to Labor Department data. Of the 2.9 million new jobs recorded by surveys, 1.4 million were filled by people in this demographic.

As people live longer, they want to work longer, too. The low unemployment rate today provides opportunities for retirees to bring skills gained over decades of hard work, as well as an ability to show empathy, stay calm under pressure and mentor younger workers.

An Ipsos/USA Today 2017 survey revealed one-third of middle-aged Americans plan to work part time after age 65. As we live longer, we need to save for an extended retirement, so late-in-life work helps fund those coffers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics ranked home health and personal care aides as among the fastest-growing occupations with an estimated 1.2 million new jobs on the horizon between 2016 and 2026. As people want to remain independent as much, and as long, as possible, these professionals are essential to making that happen.

Nationwide, the turnover rate for support professionals is 45%; more than half leave their jobs within a year. Onboarding and training costs add to the expense of employing people in these roles. If retirees might consider this line of work, and agencies might recruit retirees, we could all win.

And it’s the people being cared for who will win the most.

Mary Muliett is vice president of community services for Samaritas.

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