Even as their names might appear on the lowest levels of a health care system’s organizational chart, federal policymakers need to implement strategies to support certified nurse assistants (CNAs) and other frontline health care professionals with initiatives that include wage and overtime protections, national training standards, and research on the people who make up this workforce, a nonprofit organization says.

This proposal is just one of dozens of issues the Paraprofessional Health Institute, also known as PHI, plans to explore in its 60 Caregiver Issues campaign. Launched in February 2017, the campaign seeks to create an extended conversation about the impending shortage of health care workers in these professions.

“Too often organizations will put out one press release or a single report that often shares very useful information, but the public conversation dies out soon after it is released,” says Robert Espinoza, PHI vice president of policy. “Our thinking was ‘Let’s produce something where we issue a new report every two weeks and we do it for two years, and we allow more and more people to engage in the conversation that we’re creating.’”

With the tagline “Quality Care Through Quality Jobs,” the New York-based nonprofit since 1992 has advocated for improving wages, benefits, and training for health care professionals operating on the front lines of nursing care.

PHI says policymakers and health care stakeholders need to begin a comprehensive and sustained conversation to address the recruitment and retention challenges within this workforce because the U.S. will need 5.2 million additional caregivers by 2024. 

In addition to exploring the issue on a national level, the campaign also has produced research on caregivers in individual states aimed at helping local policy makers create initiatives to improve the quality of caregiving jobs in their communities.

The primary audience for its campaign includes elected officials and their staff members engaged in developing policy along with analysts and advocates in nonprofit and public sectors who work on creating long term care, aging, and workforce policy, Espinoza says.

“We are interested in raising awareness about the direct care workforce among an audience who already understands the value of long term care and aging in our country, but may not have thought about the workforce aspects,” he says.

However, the almost 400,000 impressions the campaign received from its social media hashtag during its first few weeks illustrate an appetite for figuring out how to improve the relationship between quality jobs and quality care among broader audiences, says Espinoza. 

“We’ve seen everyday people tweeting our memes and our posts,” Espinoza says. “It’s exciting to see so much national interest in this campaign and a real interest in talking about the future of the direct care workforce and of long term care as a whole. We’re hoping to reach at least a million people online by the end of the year.”

Interest in caregiving issues among people other than policymakers and health care professionals probably shouldn’t be a surprise given the caregiving role many have taken on in recent years which, experts say, is directly related to the caregiving shortage. 

According to a 2011 Gallup-Healthways survey, about one of every six Americans working full-time or part-time also is assisting with the care of an elderly or disabled family member, relative, or friend.

With the workforce shortage having a broad impact, PHI plans to collaborate with other groups to flesh out these issues toward developing and implementing policy solutions. 

“We as a campaign are committed to working with national experts in the long term care field to study specific topics, whether it’s what are the legal rights of direct care workers or what is the proper training program that deals with Alzheimer’s disease,” Espinoza says. “We know that there are experts in the field who are positioned to speak on those issues, and we want to work closely with them to capture the lessons and spread the word.”