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Op-Ed: Investing in Our Workforce to Care for Our Aging Population

By Barb Clapp in Rio Grande Guardian


Texas is at a crossroads. More than one-fourth of all Americans 65 and older live in Texas, California and Florida. By 2050, the number of seniors 65 and older in Texas is expected to reach 8.3 million — more than double from 3.9 million in 2020. Yet, our healthcare workforce continues to dwindle, and by 2032 there will be a deficit of 57,000 registered nurses, just as our state’s “silver tsunami” is projected to overwhelm nursing homes and other senior care options. 

South Texas is not immune to these challenges, especially as the region is already classified as medically underserved. To ensure the Rio Grande Valley is able to provide the aging population — and all Texans — with adequate care, a pipeline of healthcare workers is essential to a strong healthcare system. At the start of that pipeline, certified nurse aides (CNAs) are one of the most essential and in-demand jobs, providing critical services in long-term care facilities, doctor’s offices, hospitals and in-home care. This isn’t just beneficial for the healthcare system and its patients — CNA certification is often the first step for someone seeking long-term career opportunities in health care, paving a path to continued growth and increase in earning potential. 

Over the last decade, Texas has lost 36% of its CNAs. Between 2017 and 2022, the number of CNAs per 100,000 people here in the RGV decreased by 19%. These shortages are only predicted to worsen, to the detriment to both patients and our healthcare workforce.

Fortunately, organizations like Dwyer Workforce Development (DWD), a national healthcare training nonprofit, are addressing this growing CNA shortage and providing opportunities for Texans who might not have the resources to launch their own healthcare careers.

Through partnerships with local colleges, DWD provides tuition-free workforce training with person-centered case management as well as wraparound support including housing assistance, transportation and free childcare, to Texans interested in obtaining their CNA certification. Through this work, we not only aim to solve the care gap but also help break the cycle of poverty in vulnerable populations and increase the number of individuals on the pathway to a career in the healthcare industry in Texas.

After graduation, Dwyer Scholars are matched with skilled nursing facilities as they begin their careers, taking the guesswork out of job searching. Scholars are also provided with further opportunities for career upskilling through education and certifications as they progress in their careers. In Maryland, where the DWD program was first established, more than 85% of students have stuck with their training and are now working or launching their careers. 

Although aging is inevitable, we shouldn’t have to worry how we are going to receive care at our late age, and our families shouldn’t have to worry how they are going to provide us with care either. By addressing the healthcare workforce gap from both sides, aging residents and those looking for career opportunities in the Valley alike will benefit, especially as we prepare for a rapidly aging population in Texas. 

Public-private partnerships are key to ensuring we continue to develop our growing workforce, solve healthcare challenges and care for our aging population. There is much work to be done across the state, and we are just getting started. 

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Barb Clapp, CEO of Dwyer Workforce Development, a nonprofit that supports individuals who aspire to pursue a career in the healthcare industry. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author.

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