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Plan now to train nurses for aging baby boomers

In 2006, the first wave of the baby boom generation turned 60. In the very near future, all 77 million of them will come into their retirement years. In doing so, they will transform every aspect of American society.

These baby boomers will not go silently into the good night. They will not meekly submit to retirement, but bend and shape the concept to suit their needs.

The sheer numbers of this generation suggest that there will be a tremendous increase in the need for nurses, especially those who work in home care. With this group already in short supply, the question is: Where will America find the home care nurses it will so desperately need? Here are some thoughts:

*The face of the new worker is over age 65. One of the most fruitful avenues will be to attract back nurses who have retired.

This will involve taking a hard look at the reasons why they removed themselves from the work force (excessive paperwork, for example) and it will involve giving them flexible hours and reasonable pay.

*We should look to create a career ladder and promote those who have worked as home care aides.

These individuals who provide the hands-on personal care have the right work ethic. Most of them would love it if, through some combination of education and experience, they could be elevated to the status of nurses.

*We must make home care the preferred profession.

Nurses who work in institutional settings will very quickly see the advantages of working in home care. The question should be: Are you good enough to be a home care nurse?

*We should give preference to nurses through our immigration laws.

Our immigration laws create preference to certain categories of employees who are deemed to be critically important and in short supply. We should give preference to those who are trained and who have the right work ethic, caring and professionalism to work in home care.

*We should increase the supply of home care nurses.

The shortage of good teachers is what limits the number of nurses who can be trained and graduated by our schools of nursing. Top-flight home care nurses should be recruited to teach what they know in schools of nursing.

*The Internet should be used by home care agencies to help train and keep the skills of home care nurses sharp.

There is no reason why much of the training of future home care nurses cannot be done virtually. The National Association for Home Care and Hospice, for example, offers one such program through the University of Minnesota.

Val J. Halamandaris is president of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice.

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