National Nursing Assistant Week has been celebrated since 1977, and this year runs from June 13-20. Without capable, dedicated nursing assistants, our community couldn't receive the care it needs.

As Wisconsin's population ages, nursing assistants will continue to play a crucial role in meeting the demand for long-term care services. However, low pay and a Wisconsin-Minnesota wage disparity are contributing to a nursing assistant shortage in our state. A 2018 report on the long-term care workforce found that the median pay for certified nurse assistants (CNAs) was just $10.75 an hour. The same report found that one in three long-term care providers estimated that at least ten members of their staff utilized BadgerCare, the state's Medicaid program, which provides health coverage to low-income residents.

CNAs and long-term care providers shared the challenges facing their industry during a roundtable hosted by Department of Workforce Development Secretary Caleb Frostman and me. Roundtable participants pointed to low Medicaid reimbursement rates and low CNA pay as barriers to hiring and retaining staff. To address these concerns, Secretary Frostman and I have advocated for Gov. Tony Evers' proposal to expand Medicaid, which would increase access to health care and draw in $1.6 billion in new federal funding, some of which would go directly to long-term care workers and providers.

Providers, clients and the public know that nursing assistants are on the front lines of our nation's health care system. These health care professionals are skilled, hardworking and dedicated. Despite working long hours, many nursing assistants are struggling to stay afloat. Medicaid expansion can help support our nursing assistants and many others in our community.

Medicaid expansion is not only fiscally responsible; it's the right thing to do. That's why it is supported by 70% of Wisconsinites and by local officials. Recently, the St. Croix County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution backing Medicaid Expansion on 12-4 vote. Nationally, 36 other states - including Arkansas, Kentucky and Indiana - have accepted federal dollars to expand Medicaid.

While we recognize the hard work of our nursing assistants, let's also remember ways we can support them and our community. Expanding Medicaid is a great way to do so.

Sen. Patty Schachtner represents Wisconsin's 10th senate district. The district covers parts of Burnett, Dunn, Pierce, Polk, and St. Croix counties. She may be reached at 608-266-7745 or Sen.Schachtner@legis.wisconsin.gov.