Minnesota is swimming in the deep sea of the caregiver shortage

Growing up in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa, Margo Paplow often visited the local nursing homes where her mother worked as a nurse.  

As far back as she can remember, Paplow knew she wanted to work in medicine, so when she turned 15, she began to work with her mom at the nursing home to get experience.

“I’ve been around senior care my entire life,” said Paplow, who lives near Truman. “I knew the people, and I thought it was nice to get that exposure.”

That was the start of what would be a thriving career in senior care that has spanned 36 years.

Margo Paplow

Today, Paplow is a Regional Nurse Consultant for Ecumen, a senior care provider based in Minnesota. She travels to different Ecumen sites in rural southern Minnesota to provide support through continuing staff education and systems and procedure development.

“One of the biggest challenges in senior care is the growing demand for caregivers across the state,” Paplow said.

“I definitely see the [caregiver] staffing crisis and our need to find creative ways to solve this,” Paplow said. “The reality is here; it’s the silver tsunami.”  Our senior population is outgrowing all other generations combined.

By 2025, one of every four Minnesotans will be 65 or older. Of those who turned 65 in the past year, at least 70 percent are expected to use long-term care services at some point.

“[The caregiver need] is exploding not only because more people are getting older, but they’re also living longer,” Paplow said. “From my vantage point, we have very a small pool [of caregivers] to choose from.”

Along with other senior care providers, Paplow and her teams are already discussing creative solutions, including reaching out to organizations like the Salvation Army and food shelves to recruit nontypical applicants as caregivers.

Other creative ways senior care centers can successfully recruit caregivers are through partnerships with colleges and high schools and by hosting and attending hiring events to offer immediate interviews.

“We really need to think outside the box. There are many opportunities for us that we haven’t explored,” Paplow said. “When we go recruit, we cannot only think the nursing department.”

Paplow has already seen success with some of these approaches. She has seen applicants and current staff moved to higher positions after they’ve received support and training for advancement.  

“We need dietary and environmental service employees as well,” said Paplow. “If we provide them with the right support, we’re seeing wonderful things.

Paplow says local organizations and government entities outside of care centers also need to find new ways to provide support and resources for Minnesota’s seniors.

“We need to build programs that will be helpful to them,” Paplow said. “If we want to have an impact, it’s going to need to take a lot of action on behalf of the senior care industry.”

Paplow suggests families, communities and advocacy groups ask the following questions when thinking about senior care:

  • How can we help seniors age in place?
  • How can we provide individualized care to our seniors?
  • How can we campaign for funding for senior care?  
  • How can we help seniors stay strong and healthy?

She hopes more Minnesotans will begin to realize the major impact the growing senior population has on the caregiver workforce and will start planning ahead.

“Right now, the general population knows what’s floating on the surface, but not the depth of the sea that we’re going to be swimming in,” Paplow said. “We need to expose different ideas and opportunities to have success.”

Andrea Magaña is a regulator contributor to Face Aging MN. If you want to reach her or have any questions, you can reach us at info@faceagingmn.org. Have your own story to share? We’d love to hear from you.

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