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‘How to get there’ — a wall too high to climb

One of the harder things for a legislator is to pull one of your own bills but, at times, it’s necessary.

Unfortunately, I had to recently kill one of mine — House Bill 1142, which had to do with setting up a statewide program intended to improve recruitment and retention of workers in the direct health care profession, generally meaning certified nurse aides or CNAs.

The bill was an idea brought to me by a knowledgeable Durango constituent, Charlie Speno, who after many years of working in the field of care of the elderly and disabled, was made keenly aware of the workforce challenges for nurse aide paraprofessionals.

CNAs are those who provide the direct care to the elderly and disabled and are critically needed in the daily lives of these folks and their families. The very high rate of turnover in CNAs affects the state and its citizens in a number of ways. The state spends a lot of its budget in the area of Medicaid services and the costs of training new nurse aides at such a rapid rate contributes to the state’s budget challenges.

HB 1142 was written to revive an expired pilot program and created a statewide direct provider career path that would be offered in educational institutions, such as community colleges. While the bill didn’t require an employer to pay additional wages for further training, it was anticipated that the new skills acquired would make the CNA more valuable and more interested in staying in his or her job.

Once introduced, HB 1142 went through a fiscal analysis to determine what it would cost the state to implement the bill, if passed. In this case, the affected state agencies each saw new duties that they’d have to take on if the bill passed, so they reported projected costs to the fiscal analyst. In the end, the bill was estimated to cost over $100,000 a year and the addition of three new state employees to oversee the program.

I worked with the state agencies to see if there was a way to rewrite the bill to eliminate the costs, but I was unsuccessful in reaching an agreement with them. Despite valuing the same goal that we had, as can often happen in policymaking, it was the “how to get there” that became the wall too high to climb.

In the current economic climate, I couldn’t proceed with those costs attached to the bill. I pulled the bill by making a motion in the first committee hearing to postpone the bill indefinitely. The health and human services committee members shared my disappointment that the bill couldn’t go forward this year, but seemed appreciative that I recognized that fact on my own, rather than asking them to pass it as drafted.

My plan is not to give up on the idea or the goal, but, instead to bring together the various stakeholders, including, but not limited to, the state agencies who opposed the bill or attached fiscal impacts to it to work with me to come up with a better, less costly proposal. This’ll be a project I work on with the stakeholders and supporters of the concept once this session has adjourned.

Helping to provide high quality and affordable care of the elderly and disabled is a responsibility that, like other states, Colorado has assumed over the years. We have long waiting lists for people who are eligible for services, but Colorado doesn’t have the money to provide those services.

If those who provide direct care services see their jobs as more financially rewarding and personally satisfying, they’ll likely reverse the current trend and continue to stay in and advance in their jobs. Given the large number of baby boomers headed into their golden years and our state’s economy in a seriously weakened condition, the sooner we address these challenges, the better.