Rep. Kelly Chambers: Staffing shortages have crushed Washington’s nursing homes and hospitals. This would help…

(Article published Feb. 23, 2023 in The News Tribune: https://www.thenewstribune.com/opinion/op-ed/article272563871.html)

For some time, Washington has faced major challenges meeting its long-term health care needs. Then the pandemic hit. And it got worse.

Call it a perfect storm. Nearly 16% of Washington’s population are 75 and older. Nearly 50% of registered nurses in long-term care work settings are 55 and older, with the average retirement age at age 64 in Washington. Last year, there were more than 1,100 nursing staff job openings. The pandemic increased the pace of retirements, we have a declining workforce, and more demand than ever as our aging population rapidly grows in Washington state.

Staffing shortages are so bad, nursing homes do not have enough staff to care for patients, so beds go empty. Some nursing home/rehabilitation facilities have stopped accepting hospital patients who are ready to be discharged, but still need rehabilitative care. This causes backlogs at hospitals and takes beds away from other patients who need them. Some incoming hospital patients are left in beds in emergency room hallways for hours, even days, due to backlogs.

DSHS is discussing how to bolster the long-term care workforce, including boosting pay and Medicaid reimbursement rates, providing additional training programs, and becoming more innovative in recruiting efforts. These are worthy discussions for long-term solutions. However, there are some immediate things we can do to lessen the impact.

One of those is by passing House Bill 1568. I authored this bill to provide a few simple tools that would incentivize current long-term care professionals to stay on the job, and encourage qualified long-term care workers who left the profession for other positions or retired to return to the long-term care field.

Many health professionals’ licenses are subject to renewal each year on the licensee’s birthday. If a health practitioner allows his or her credentials to expire, there’s a few requirements to get those credentials reinstated, including payment of renewal fees or late fees.

Under this bill, the renewal cycle for home care aides, nursing assistants, and medication assistant endorsements is extended to two years, giving each worker more bang for their bucks (two years for the price of one).

Beginning Sept. 1, 2023, my bill says a person whose home care aide or nursing assistant credential has expired for more than six months, but less than two years, is exempt from late or current renewal fees if the person complies with all other certification requirements necessary to return to active status. That means many of those workers who took other employment or retired during COVID would have the opportunity, if they so choose, to return to the profession without penalties.

House Bill 1568 provides more flexibility in the training schedule by extending time to meet the requirements. For instance, workers report a problem being able to schedule their certification exam in a timely manner. My proposal would extend the timeframe to get licensed an extra 100 days if the employee proves they’ve completed their required training.

This bill is a quick solution that would provide flexibility and incentives to encourage a robust workforce.

It took years for our state to reach this long-term care workforce shortage. We won’t solve it overnight. While we look at medium and long-range solutions, we can do some simple, commonsense things now to bolster the profession and provide the critical care services our aging population needs and deserves. House Bill 1568 is a great start to meet that goal.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rep. Kelly Chambers, R-Puyallup, serves the 25th Legislative District. She is also a small business owner that provides in-home support for seniors and members of the disabled community.

State Representative Kelly Chambers, 25th Legislative District
RepresentativeKellyChambers.com
426 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
kelly.chambers@leg.wa.gov
(360) 786-7948 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000