Iowa AARP calls for major shift in long-term health care model

DES MOINES — As housing prices soar and wages for health care providers lag, advocates for Iowa’s aging population are calling for a major change in caring for the state’s aging population.

Economic conditions have conspired to close several nursing homes in Iowa in recent years. The average wage for workers who provide long-term health care in Iowa is about $16 an hour.

Brad Anderson, Iowa state director for AARP, said it is far too low to attract and retain dedicated workers. But beyond boosting wages, Anderson argued providers need to improve working conditions for prospective workers and make providing long-term health care an attractive career option to younger people.

Anderson pointed out aging Iowans are also demanding a different type of care now.

“We believe it’s time for a new model,” Anderson asserted. “A vast majority of Iowans want to get long-term care in their own homes rather than a nursing home. So, we as a state need to find a more effective way to get them what they want.”

Anderson emphasized in addition to attracting more workers with better wages and working conditions, providers need to be more transparent about how taxpayer dollars are spent, and adopt a mindset that focuses on home-based care.

Results of a recent AARP survey showed 78% of Iowans who need care prefer to receive it at home with caregiver assistance, reflecting the national trend.

Anderson acknowledged policymakers have been talking about changing the long-term health-care model for more than 20 years. Iowa nursing homes closing due to lack of funding and qualified workers has put the issue front and center.

Anderson stressed communities can lead the culture shift by developing a home-care network investing in technology and working with local schools, becoming destinations for older Iowans who want to age at home. But he added the demographics are not going to get any more favorable than they are right now.

“For example, by 2035, for the first time in history, we’re going to have more Americans over the age of 65 than under the age of 18,” Anderson noted. “We need to ask ourselves who is going to take care of the next generation of older Iowans?”

Anderson is optimistic about progress given state agencies and the Department of Health and Human Services understand the need and are working with advocates such as Iowa AARP on solutions.