Senior care panel looks for lasting change in Kansas workforce
Kelly Sommers, director of the Kansas State Nurses Association, said deeper and more difficult conversations on issues within the senior care workforce need to be had, in particular about barriers to continued education. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — A group of medical advocates and leaders on a state senior care panel are pushing to ensure their work will bring change beyond surface legislation and policy recommendations.
The subgroup of the Kansas Senior Care Taskforce, which met Thursday, is charged with studying how to improve safe staffing and ensure employee pay is proper, among other topics. That insight goes into recommendations for consideration by the full task force that could be forwarded as part of a final report to the Legislature.
Not all recommendations are adopted, but sometimes the proposals can help frame legislation or future work by various other commissions. The task force itself sunsets in 2023 unless the Legislature extends the window of work.
Kelly Sommers, director of the Kansas State Nurses Association, said this work is only a starting point to necessary and more difficult conversations.
“There are deep, deep roots with the workforce on why things are where they are today, and we have to have those honest conversations,” Sommers said. “These are conversations that I have every day, every single week, and it’s quite frustrating because I hear a lot and it goes nowhere.”
One area of focus for Sommers is with programs to help people obtain certifications and degrees they otherwise could not afford. This is a major barrier, Sommers said, in addressing the lack of diversity among care providers.
“If you’re looking at a single parent or something like that, it’s not affordable to go back to school and raise families,” Sommers said.
Among the recommendations the subgroup is working on is a five-year career plan that would encompass the areas addressed by Sommers. Other areas of focus include reimbursement rates, barriers to workforce entry and a caregiver tax credit.
Christina Rudacille, director of practical nursing and health occupations at Johnson County Community College, said admission testing can also be a barrier to diversity for those going for nursing degrees.
“I did a five-year retroactive study, and we removed the admission test,” Rudacille said. “We had a 90% Caucasian population in our program prior to me making that decision. We removed the admission test, and now I have 48% Caucasian.”
Camille Russell, the state’s long-term care ombudsman, said she supported the panel’s recommendations but wanted to temper expectations for how much work was left.
“I feel like we really have only scratched the surface of what really needs to be looked at for us to address our workforce issues,” Russell said. “I think we are remiss in thinking that this is going to fix anything in and of itself. So, all those things that are brought up are real and hopefully we will continue to work forward on this.”
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