By Mike Hyland, President and CEO
Now that the current political campaign season is finally (and mercifully!) drawing to a close, we should all do more than simply hope that our elected officials in Washington begin working together to move the country forward. We should demand it. That is, after all, what we send them to Washington to do and it has actually been quite a long time since the collective on Capitol Hill has done a respectable job of this.
Believe it or not, there actually was a time when members of opposite parties were collegial and effective. Politicians viewed members of a different party as political opponents, not political enemies. Somewhere over the past 20 years or so this has changed dramatically. It seems that in Washington, anger has replaced cooperation, obstruction has replaced success, and rhetoric has replaced transparency. Caught in the middle of this offensive stalemate are people who require supports to live in the community and the people who provide those supports. It is in fact the responsibility of the elected officials in D.C. to work out their differences among themselves without essentially holding those who elected them hostage. Too often politics and pandering prevent our society from fully evolving into a state where those who need help can get it and those who help them are honored for their work.
Our population continues to grow and with it so do the needs of many citizens. It is the job of our representative government to create conditions that allow these needs to be met in timely and cost-effective ways. The rising cost of Medicaid, access to autism services, out of control healthcare and pharmaceutical costs, diminishing numbers of safe and low-cost housing options, and continuing stigma attached to various medical conditions are just a few examples of what our political leadership needs to address. The list of issues is daunting and requires the full cooperation of everyone in the Senate and House of Representatives. Perhaps chief among their concerns should be the workforce crisis facing our industry.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that in the next 10 years the healthcare support industry will add approximately 974,000 jobs. We don’t have enough people to fill the job openings in the industry now, much less when almost a million more are needed in the near future. Congress needs to work together immediately to recognize the importance of this highly skilled workforce by finally creating a system where professionals who provide direct care to so many are paid appropriately. This means also confronting other existing barriers such as the cost of education, the cost of benefits, credentialing, and ongoing professional development expenses. For too long, elected officials have politicized this important work when it should be a human cause, not a political talking point. Making these jobs desirable on an economic level is the only way to ensure that when those million jobs are needed we will have a trained and well compensated group of professionals to fill them. We have those professionals now and it’s crucial the country provide them with the means to continue doing the work they do.
Finally, our politicians need to own and respect the power of their words. The vitriol and rancor that so blatantly accompanies virtually every dialogue on Capitol Hill simply needs to stop. It constantly grinds the country’s progress to a screeching halt and those unnecessary delays harm too many people, including professionals working with so many disenfranchised populations. Creating divides is the antithesis of what elected officials should be doing for us and it happens too often and with potentially devastating results. Constituents everywhere should communicate a simple message to the new Congress and Administration once they are installed in the nation’s capital: we expect more.