Lori Porter, Co-Founder & CEO
I have spent 40 years working in long-term care services, first as a dishwasher, then to a certified nursing assistant (CNA), a certified medication tech, a certified activities director, a social services designee, and then a licensed nursing home administrator, all in the span of nine years. I am a high school dropout who grew up in the Ozarks of Missouri never dreaming I would amount to anything. Most of my teachers had told me that. Many of them have had to choke on their words years later, which brings me much satisfaction, although I am not sure that is the right way to feel. All bets were against me. Even my own mother, who thought I was the “be all end all” as a daughter, did not see me making much of myself.
In 1995, Lisa Sweet and I cofounded the National Association of Health Care Assistants (NAHCA) to recognize the position of CNAs as a real and recognized profession. We wanted to provide them with the type of resources we at NAHCA uniquely know they want and need and to find ways to increase the earnings they receive for caring for our nation’s most vulnerable citizens.
Covid-19 has been a dark storm for CNAs, but there is a silver lining. CNAs were initially unprotected with makeshift PPE and little to no hazard pay, while other professions took unemployment and earned an additional $600 per week. The average CNA does not even make $600 per week for their great sacrifices during 2020 and into 2021. CNAs have never had a professional win. We have heard 40 years of lip service about how important they are, but there has been no real change to improve their professional lives. To care so little for CNAs is to care very little about our elders in America.
Over the past 12 months, I have witnessed the pain and suffering of CNAs firsthand, and I have witnessed their incredible resilience. Many ask, “Why do they do it? Can they not get other jobs?” They do it because they need residents as much as residents need them. It is a two-way relationship, and both are dependent on the other. CNAs are fulfilled in knowing they make a difference in lives of those who can no longer care for themselves. There is no professional more committed to person-centered care than a dedicated CNA. Pay is an issue, but most CNAs want help. The want more CNAs because they know person-centered care is not possible without CNAs to practice it. There is nothing person-centered about having only one CNA for 30 or more residents.
Based on reports I receive daily from CNAs across the country, nursing home residents sometimes go with little or no touch in any given shift. That is both a wake-up call and a referendum on reforming our long-term care system for elders. The model of the past 40 years has not proven successful and reforming our workforce ecosystem is a must. Over the past 20 years, CNA staffing has only gotten worse. Providing person-centered care hinges on residents having professional CNAs in the numbers necessary to meet their emotional, physical, and psychosocial needs and provide care. That was not happening prior to COVID and certainly is not happening now.
My vision for the future hinges on collaboration with Pioneer Network and other organizations who are dedicated to quality care in our nation’s nursing homes. As we continue to face these challenges, NAHCA and Pioneer Network are dedicated to developing and advancing education and resources to ensure we are constantly valuing CNAs as one of the most important positions in long term care.
Nursing homes must change. We can lead that change when like-minded organizations come together. We must be stalwart in our commitment to changingness MUST BE RESPECTED BEYOND A COLD PIZZA PARTY!