Senators Collins, Casey Introduce Legislation to Address Critical Shortage of Geriatric Health Professionals

At Senate Health Committee hearing, Senator Collins discusses importance of geriatrics training

Click HERE to watch Senator Collins’ Q&A with Dr. Phelan

Note to assignment editors and news directors: Click HERE for high-quality video of Senator Collins’ Q&A with Dr. Phelan

 

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bob Casey (D-PA), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Aging Committee, introduced the Geriatrics Workforce Improvement Act to increase the number of geriatric health professionals and direct service workers to support our aging population.  This bipartisan legislation would reauthorize the Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program (GWEP) at $45 million per year over the next five years and also reinstate the Geriatric Academic Career Awards program (GACA) at $6 million per year.

 

“The United States is facing a critical shortage of geriatric health professionals and direct service workers to support our aging population. We need 20,000 geriatricians to meet the needs of older Americans, yet there are fewer than 7,300.  If we remain on our current trajectory, this shortfall will only grow worse,” said Senator Collins.  “Together, GWEP and GACA would develop a high-quality geriatric workforce ready to provide care for Americans as we grow older.  I urge my colleagues to support this bipartisan legislation that would improve geriatric education for our current workforce, while optimizing resources to bolster academic careers in geriatrics. ”

 

The number of Americans aged 65 and older is growing rapidly.  In Maine, we are reaching an aging milestone faster than other states – by 2020, the number of seniors is projected to outnumber children.  This is 15 years ahead of the national projected date of 2035, at which point the number of Americans 65 and older will outnumber those under age 18 for the first time in U.S. history. 

 

Fewer than 7,300 of our nation’s nearly one million physicians are currently board-certified geriatricians.  The United States needs to train 1,600 geriatricians per year over the next 12 years to reach the 30,000 geriatricians that will be needed by 2030.  We must also significantly increase the number of health professionals and direct service workers trained to care for older adults.

 

GWEP is the only federally funded program that exists to educate and train health care professionals in geriatrics.  Today there are 44 geriatric workforce enhancement programs or GWEPs in 29 states.  GWEP sites include 25 schools of medicine, ten schools of nursing, five healthcare facilities, two schools of allied health, a school of social work, and a certified nurse assistant program.  GWEP programs help integrate geriatrics into primary care, train providers to address the needs of older adults, deliver community-based programs, and provide Alzheimer’s disease education.

 

GACA programs, which were established in 1998, increase the number of faculty engaged in geriatric education by supporting health care professionals’ transition from clinical practice to academic roles.  Following a restructuring of the geriatric workforce program, GACA has gone unfunded since 2015. 

 

At a Senate Health Committee hearing today, Senator Collins questioned Dr. Elizabeth Phelan, a native of Maine and Director of Northwest Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Center and Professor at the University of Washington, on the importance of infusing geriatrics health training across health professions and in settings of care.

 

Dr. Phelan explained that “pretty much every health care provider in practice, unless he or she is a pediatrician… will encounter an older adult as part of their day-to-day practice” and that “having the basic understanding of how caring for older adults differs from care of people who are younger is very critical to making safe choices about treatment.”

 

In a letter in support of the Geriatric Workforce Improvement Act, the Eldercare Workforce Alliance, a group of 31 national groups focused on the immediate and future needs of the geriatrics workforce, wrote that their organizations are “…greatly appreciative for the leadership and hard work of Sen. Collins and Sen. Casey for the Geriatrics Workforce Improvement Act… These programs are of vital importance to this country as they equip the primary care workforce and family caregivers with the knowledge and skills to care for older adults and build community networks to address gaps in health care for seniors, especially around Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia.”

 

In addition, the National Association for Geriatric Education wrote that “this authorization and related funding is needed for the development of a health care workforce specifically trained to care for older adults and to support their family caregivers.