Over 73,000 employees in hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities could become state-licensed “direct care workers” if a bill that’s cleared the Iowa Senate becomes law. Senator Pam Jochum, a Democrat from Dubuque, says a task force worked for the past five years on the idea.

“This bill is truly a step in the right direction to ensure that those who take care of the most vulnerable of Iowans have the training and qualifications to do so,” Jochum says. AARP lobbied for the legislation, arguing that if barbers, plumbers and massage therapists have to be licensed, then direct care workers who provide basic care to elderly, ill and disabled Iowans should, too.

The bill would create a state board that would establish how many hours of education or training would be required to earn a direct care worker license. The board would also take complaints and keep a list of direct care workers who’ve been the subject of complaints. Jochum says by making the job a profession, that may address the “radical” turn-over of direct care workers.

“We have anywhere from 60 to 67 percent turn-over annually that’s costing our taxpayers and employers about $189 million a year from the turn-over itself as we have to retrain and get everybody back up to speed,” Jochum says. Iowa would become the first state to license direct care workers if the bill becomes law.

The legislation faces a deadline as it must clear a committee in the Iowa House by the end of this week to remain eligible for consideration.