Wisconsin Democrats introduce bill to address health care worker shortage

Published: Dec. 5, 2017 at 6:37 PM CST
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A group of Wisconsin Democrats is proposing using Federal Medicaid expansion money to increase pay for Certified Nursing Assistants to help fill the workforce gap.

The group of Democrats says it's estimated that the state is short about 11,500 Certified Nursing Assistants, or CNAs. Those health care professionals work directly with patients or clients helping to do things like take a bath, use the bathroom or get out of bed.

A study by the Wisconsin Health Care Association, Wisconsin Center for Assisted Living and LeadingAge Wisconsin and Residential Services Association of Wisconsin found that the median starting income for a CNA, after 120 hours of certification training, is about $10.75 per hour.

"We have care providers that are caring for our loved ones every singe day and they go home and can't provide their family with their same care," State Representative Lisa Subeck said.

Democrats announced three bills Tuesday that would increase pay for CNAs in an attempt to attract more people to the job. The money would come from a Federal Medicaid expansion that Wisconsin has not taken in the past.

A bipartisan, but Republican lead, proposal brought forth earlier this year also attempts to address the shortage. This approach would reduce the number of training hours for CNAs from 120 hours to 75 hours. Authors of the bill say reducing the training hours aligns Wisconsin's certification requirements with that of neighboring states.

The Executive Director of the Wisconsin Health Care Association, John Vander Meer, says something needs to be done to address the shortage. He says CNAs play a critical role in health care, especially for the elderly.

"We have an aging Baby Boomer population that's moving towards a time in life when they're going to require more long term care and services, so we want to make sure we have the workforce ready to meet those significant challenges," Vander Meer said.

The bipartisan proposal has passed the State Assembly. It is not scheduled to be voted on in the Senate. The Democratic proposals are still circulating for co-sponsorship.