America's aging citizens are facing a health care workforce too small and unprepared to meet their needs, according to a new report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) titled "Retooling for an Aging America: Building the Health Care Workforce."
The Gerontological Society of America (GSA), the nation's largest organization devoted to aging research, fully supports the publication's call for a labor pool of adequate size and competency to care for a rapidly increasing over-65 population.
"This pivotal report lays out a much-needed strategy for developing a network of health professionals and frontline workers to avert a crisis in quality care for older persons," said GSA President Lisa Gwyther, MSW. "Complex chronic illness is an issue that we all will face with age. The current fragmented system of care desperately requires an increase in better-prepared personnel to sustain itself."
The report was the result of 15 months of research overseen by a committee of 15 health care experts, many of whom are GSA members.
Committee Chair John W. Rowe, MD, a professor of health policy and management at Columbia University and a former GSA president, said America must prepare itself for demographic changes.
"The combination of the aging of the Baby Boom generation and the increase in life expectancy is going to yield a doubling of the numbers of older people," he said. "And it's important to understand that older people themselves account for a disproportionate amount of the utilization of health care resources."
Despite these trends, "the actual number of geriatricians is going down, not up, in the United States," Rowe added.
Marie Bernard, MD, president of The Association for Gerontology in Higher Education (GSA's educational unit), said policymakers must act quickly to address these problems.
"To meet the needs of our aging parents and grandparents, we need to increase the number of geriatric health specialists — both to provide care for those older adults with the most complex issues and to train the rest of the workforce in the common medical problems of old age," Bernard said.
Sponsorship for the IOM project was provided by The John A. Hartford Foundation, The Atlantic Philanthropies, The Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The Retirement Research Foundation, The California Endowment, The Archstone Foundation, The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), The Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, and The Commonwealth Fund.
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