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City officials grapple with elder care worker crunch

Finland’s senior population is set to grow significantly during the next 15 years. Local authorities dealing with the fastest-aging are finding it difficult sufficiently trained workers. However they are finding that the solution doesn’t lie simply in providing more training.

Vanhuksen kynsiä lakataan.
Image: Yle

According to Statistics Finland in 15 years, more than 30 Finnish municipalities will find themselves in a situation in which at least one-fifth of the population are seniors. The data have left local decision makers scratching their heads over the question of who will care for aging residents.

In 2014 the National Institute for Health and Welfare THL conducted a survey about the delivery of elder care services. The responses indicated that aging municipalities are already struggling to attract sufficiently trained workers for the job.

One of the localities where this is already playing out is in 10,000-resident Viitasaari in central Finland. So far local officials have been able to fill permanent jobs, but finding substitute workers to fill staffing gaps has proven to be more of a problem.

“Of course summers are difficult and if a permanent employee has to take extended sick leave then we won’t necessarily get a trained person to fill in. In particular there haven’t been enough nurses willing to come as far north as central Finland,” said deputy head of basic services Marja Laurila.

Govt think tank: 90,000 new workers needed in social and health care sector

The situation isn’t helped by the fact that the worker shorter isn’t being felt exclusively in the area of elder care. Government’s Institute for Economic Research VATT has calculated that the state would need 90,000 additional social and health care workers by the year 2030.

That means government needs to provide training in this area for many more students. It would also likely have to consider migrant labour to meet staffing needs. And even those measures may not be sufficient, said VATT unit chief Juha Honkatukia.

“It’s clear that we will have to this about issues such as new technological solutions as well as organising work in a different way. This is what these major reforms have tried to accomplish,” Honkatukia noted, referring to government’s failed social and health care reform gambit.

Outdoor activities and rehabilitation the first to go

As a result of its aging profile, technology and mobile operations have become familiar tools in Viitasaari. City officials transmit the elder centre’s daily programme to the homes of seniors who aren’t able to physically attend the sessions.

All the same, local governments are continuously working on plans for the future. Every effort is being made to retain staff and to train new employees using programmes such as apprenticeships. They are also looking at service vouchers as a means of delivery services.

In spite of their best efforts, some local officials fear that they may still end up having to trim services.

“First we will probably have to cut corners with respect to outdoor activities and other forms of physical therapy. It’s most important for elders to have food, medicine and cleanliness. We always take care of the basics,” Laurila explained.

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