As the baby boom generation advances into its elder years, Washington State is witnessing a striking increase in its older adult population. Policy makers and other stakeholders, including the Ruckelshaus Center and the Health Policy Center, are asking important questions about the health system’s ability to support this demographic shift. Their joint research project focused on one such question: What is the capacity of Washington’s health care workforce to meet the current and future demand of the state’s older adults?
The partners’ baseline study was designed to discover, assess, and aggregate generally available information and data about:
- Types of health care providers for older adults in Washington State
- Current and anticipated supply and demand for this workforce
- Policy approaches to address capacity gaps
Research activities included in-depth interviews with key stakeholders in health care for Washington’s older adults, detailed reviews of 50 health care workforce-related websites for applicable information and data, and aggregate analyses of all collected information and data.
This fact sheet is a product of the study. It offers a summary of recent research findings in Washington State regarding the growing demand for health care services for older adults, and presents a broadly inclusive and detailed definition of the health care workforce that serves them—the eldercare workforce.
A companion fact sheet, Aging in Place: A Policy Approach for Aging Well, presents an overview of key policy concerns regarding older adults’ access to eldercare services, and describes a community-based approach for supporting both eldercare service providers and the adults who receive their services. The companion fact sheet, and the interview script used in the study research, are available from the Publications page of the William D. Ruckelshaus Center’s website at http://ruckelshauscenter.wsu.edu.
Our Aging Population
In 2011, the first of the nation’s baby boom generation reached age 65, launching an “age wave” that will last until 2030. An average of 10,000 adults per day in the US will reach age 65 over that time period (Vincent and Velkoff 2010; Cohn and Taylor, 2010). But the older adult segment of the population had begun to grow in parts of the US even before this wave began. In the ten years before 2011, for example, the proportion of adults age 65 and older grew by 23.5% in the Western US, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming—the highest growth rate in the country (Werner 2010).
Like the rest of the nation, Washington State’s population is aging. According to the Washington State Office of Financial Management (OFM), by 2030 the state will have nearly 700,000 more older adults than it does today, an expansion roughly equivalent to adding a population the size of the City of Seattle (OFM 2013a). The state’s population will grow from one in seven residents age 65 and older to one in five (OFM 2013b). In many of the state’s rural counties, the proportion will be even higher, at one in three (OFM 2012).
Supply of Eldercare Workers
Health care workforce supply has two key components: an adequate number of health care providers for the population being served and appropriately trained providers for that population. In Washington State and the nation, the supply of appropriately trained health care providers for adults age 65 and older is markedly insufficient now and is on a trajectory to worsen. In 2008, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published findings from an in-depth study of the ability of the nation’s health care workforce to care for older adults. The report asserted that the US has a “dramatic” undersupply of all types of health care workers today, and this workforce is not prepared to meet the health care needs of the growing older adult population now or into the future (IOM 2008).
Primary care providers, such as physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants, are an important entry point to the health system for anyone seeking care, including older adults.