Why a Guest Worker Program is a Short Term Fix for the Senior Care Industry

A potential guest worker program that would allow low-skilled immigrants to enter the U.S. legally and accept low-paying jobs w standard wages is gaining publicity. Eight members of the U.S. Senate are working on a visa program that would allow up to 200,000 low-skilled immigrants to enter the U.S. legally. The newly arrived immigrants would be eligible to apply for citizenship after one year.

Assisted living communities and skilled nursing homes are labor intensive. They also rely heavily on immigrant labor. There are specific state guidelines outlining nurse’s aide-to-resident ratios for nursing homes and increasingly, assisted living homes, particularly those offering dementia care. Inadequate staffing was one of the charges leveled against Emeritus in their recent court case; it’s common enough in other cases that make it to court. New market technology is unlikely to offset the high cost of labor in the near term.

The current recession has reduced employee turnover in assisted living communities, particularly among aides. However, if the economy improves and more opportunities for work are available, the turnover rate will increase. The CNA job is a stressful one, even for a caring, dedicated worker. Paying a significantly higher starting wage to CNA’s would put a strain on the profit margin at most communities – particularly chains in rapid, expansion mode.

The guest worker bill being shaped by labor and business organizations counts on an improving economy. New immigrants would simply follow more established immigrants, switching jobs as aides in assisted living homes when they tire of bathing and feeding seniors for $8.50 per  hour. The lack of credentials and English mastery that prevents many current immigrants from pursuing advanced positions in skilled care would also plague workers under the guest worker proposal.

The proposal as is, would increase the ranks of the working poor (by technical definition) and be too cumbersome to fill the immediate needs of assisted living/skilled nursing communities. The comments section on the story here show how unpopular it is, even among progressives.

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