California is facing a dire shortage of workers to care for its growing elderly population, state lawmakers said yesterday in a hearing to address the issue.
Elder care advocates, practitioners and educators spoke about the need to recruit, train and retain more geriatricians and other health care professionals.
The three-hour hearing was just the beginning of an ongoing conversation about caring for the state's aging population, said Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, chair of the committee on aging and long-term care. Yamada, D-Davis, called the meeting with Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Oakland, who chairs the committee on labor and employment.
"This is a serious challenge for us," Swanson said. "You can't export the industry of health care. It is something that has to remain in our state and in our country. We just would be smart if we do all we can to grow this industry."
More than 4.4 million Californians, or 11.3 percent of the state's population, are age 65 or older. By 2050, that number is expected to grow to more than 11.5 million – representing nearly one in five Californians, according to the state Department of Finance.
But the state has far fewer caregivers for the elderly. California has only 534 certified geriatricians [PDF], according to the American Board of Internal Medicine. That translates to one geriatrician for every 8,262 seniors.
Nationwide, there are an estimated 3.6 geriatricians for every 10,000 seniors age 75 and older, according to the Geriatrics Workforce Policy Studies Center. At current training rates, the center projects that ratio will decline to 1.1 geriatricians for every 10,000 seniors [PDF] by 2050.
Still, geriatricians are only part of the elder care equation.
In 2008, California had 508,900 direct care workers [PDF] – certified nurse assistants, home health aides and personal care assistants – providing care to the elderly, according to the SCAN Foundation, a nonprofit senior advocacy group.
There are also millions of unpaid caregivers in the state. Eighty-five percent are family members, and most are women. The average age is 51, presenting another issue elder care: As more Californians age, so do their caretakers.