EMPOWER for health act highlights a rare but important bipartisan priority: supporting us all as we age

Among several legislative proposals slated for a vote today in the U.S. House of Representatives, one in particular offers a glimpse at something unique: Bipartisan collaboration and support. But as experts from the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) observe, that may be because the Educating Medical Professionals and Optimizing Workforce Efficiency and Readiness (EMPOWER) for Health Act of 2019 (H.R. 2781) stands poised to accomplish something as unique as it is necessary: Putting federal power behind training the health workforce we need as we age.

“The future we’re working for at the AGS—a future when all older Americans have access to high-quality, person-centered care—begins by building the workforce to make that possible, and by ensuring that workforce can connect us to the tools and supports we need as we grow older together,” observed Nancy E. Lundebjerg, MPA. CEO of the AGS. “The EMPOWER for Health Act will make that possible by supporting two training programs that are as critical to our future as they are widely supported, thanks in large part to the bipartisan efforts that will make this bill law.”

Introduced by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and House Energy & Commerce Health Subcommittee Ranking Member Michael Burgess (R-TX) earlier this year, the bill both reauthorizes and funds two important initiatives—the Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program (GWEP) and the Geriatrics Academic Career Awards (GACAs)—under Title VII of the Public Health Service Act, the federal mechanism for supporting health professions education and training. Both the legislation itself and the individual programs it supports draw considerable insight from the Eldercare Workforce Alliance (EWA), a collaborative comprised of more than 30 member organizations co-convened by the AGS. Like EWA, the EMPOWER for Health Act now reflects the diverse expertise of millions of health professionals who support older Americans—and understand the best path forward for sustaining that momentum.

Powered by grantees working on local solutions to workforce shortages across the U.S., for example, the GWEPs educate and engage the broader frontline workforce and family caregivers, and focus on opportunities to improve the quality of care delivered to older adults. And as a program rooted in sustaining geriatrics education, the GACAs represent an essential complement to the GWEP. By supporting time for professional development and instructional advancement, the GACAs ensure we can equip early career clinician-educators to become leaders in geriatrics training and research.

As Lundebjerg summarizes: “The GWEP provides support for the current transformation of primary care, while the GACA develops the next generation of innovators to improve care outcomes and care delivery.” “Together,” she concluded, “these platforms play a critical role in developing the workforce we all need as we age.”

Across both these efforts, the EMPOWER for Health Act would authorize funding of $51 million annually through 2024. This would allow current and future GWEP and GACA awardees to:

  • Educate and engage with family caregivers by training providers who can assess and address their care needs and preferences.
  • Promote interprofessional team-based care by transforming clinical training environments to integrate geriatrics and primary care delivery systems.
  • Improve the quality of care delivered to older adults by providing education to families and caregivers on critical care challenges such as Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
  • Support clinician-educators engaged in geriatrics education and research to develop the next generation of innovators to improve care outcomes and care delivery.

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