New York State

Opinion: To confront the senior care staffing crisis, invest in what works

How proven models create equitable career paths for young people and grow the healthcare workforce

 From left to right: Nicole Cash, Senior Director of SkillSpring; Council Member Shaun Abreu; Senator Cordell Cleare; SkillSpring participants; and Dr. Jeffrey Farber, President & CEO, The New Jewish Home.

From left to right: Nicole Cash, Senior Director of SkillSpring; Council Member Shaun Abreu; Senator Cordell Cleare; SkillSpring participants; and Dr. Jeffrey Farber, President & CEO, The New Jewish Home. Tadej Znidarcic

New York state’s older adult population is booming. With nearly 3.5 million residents ages 65 and above, older adults make up a larger share of New York’s population than ever before. According to a recent report from the Center for an Urban Future, the number of older adults in New York now surpasses the entire population of 21 states. 

At the same time, we’re experiencing a severe shortage of skilled healthcare providers serving older adults. As state budget negotiations continue, we must double down on our investment in programs that can tackle this shortage head on. Fortunately, we already have scalable examples of programs that work. Now, we need to give these workforce development programs the funding they need to continue to expand.

One especially successful model is the New Jewish Home’s SkillSpring program, a geriatric workforce development program for students and young adults from underserved communities. SkillSpring trains young people to become Certified Nursing Assistants, creating avenues for economic mobility while simultaneously tackling the healthcare workforce crisis in New York. Its results are impressive – over 90% of graduates have secured employment or are pursuing further education. Since the program’s inception, it has created pathways to careers in healthcare for over 1,100 young people who may not have otherwise had the opportunity. 

Thanks to the investment secured in last year’s state budget, SkillSpring expanded on a 2022 pilot at Hebrew Home at Riverdale by RiverSpring Living in the Bronx. and launched new programs at MJHS Health System’s Isabella Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Care in Washington Heights and Menorah Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Care in Brooklyn, as well as at ArchCare’s Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center in Manhattan. Through this added capacity, more young people have access to in-demand careers and healthcare providers get a real solution to their staffing needs. At each skilled nursing facility, SkillSpring participants receive on-site clinical training and a paid professional internship. They shadow medical staff, practice clinical skills to prepare for certified nursing assistant certification, and those who complete the program and attain their CNA credential receive an employment offer. 

Opportunities like these change lives. Young people receive entry-level healthcare jobs that give them a foothold to climb the healthcare career ladder, and older adults make strong connections with trained caregivers from their own communities.

While expanding the program in these facilities is meaningful, it only scratches the surface of meeting the need that exists. With approximately 220,000 openings for nursing assistants projected each year on average over the next decade, we must go further. SkillSpring is a replicable model that can be a force multiplier in opening up career paths for young people who often face tremendous life challenges. For providers, SkillSpring helps combat a workforce crisis that will only get worse unless we act as our older population surges. That’s why I am advocating for a $5 million investment in SkillSpring in the Fiscal Year 2025 budget to expand this groundbreaking program across the state. 

The solutions we need are in front of us. The investment we made last year shows us that well-designed initiatives like SkillSpring get results in the long term. The Legislature has an unprecedented opportunity to transform the career trajectories of disadvantaged young people and older adults across our State who need skilled nursing care. The time to act is now.

State Sen. Cordell Cleare is currently serving in her second term from District 30, representing Central Harlem, East Harlem, West Harlem, Upper West Side, Morningside Heights, Manhattanville, Hamilton Heights and Washington Heights neighborhoods.  

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