Two interesting events happened this week: One, the Department of Health and Human Services convened the first Telehealth Conference. And two, the two major home care associations, plus a  home care company, unveiled the new Home Care Workforce Action Alliance. What do these seemingly unrelated developments have to do with each other? More than you may think. For one, the pandemic left its indelible mark on the issues underlying both.

Telehealth, which arguably has been around since the invention of the telephone, received a jolt as a result of the shutdowns, isolation and quarantine of the last three years. Now, even though the expansion of it is tied to public health emergency waivers, no one is eager to let it go. In part because it’s convenient, saves money, limits inequity (think how it brings care to rural and urban underserved populations) and is tied to healthcare innovations like hospital-at-home, the government is fully behind it. It is almost expected that telehealth will continue beyond the PHE. The government already has agreed to allow Medicare to pay for behavioral telehealth services permanently.

Meanwhile, the Home Care Workforce Action Alliance is targeting a problem that also has been persistent for decades but also has worsened as a result of the pandemic. One stat from Vicki Hoak, CEO of the Home Care Association of America, one of the partners of the alliance: There will be a shortage of 151,000 paid direct-care workers by 2030. And that shortfall is expected to balloon to 355,000 positions. Thanks to the fear instilled by COVID-19, inflation, gas prices and ever-present low wages, home care workers are elusive. They also are fierce commodity, with retail, outcompeting home care agencies for people. The alliance highlighted the need to improve wages, create career paths and generally raise the respect of home care workers.

To these objectives, there may be another tie between the two events this week: It has to do with the internet. Two speakers at the Telehealth Conference  talked about the necessity of expanding broadband internet to level the playing field among the haves and have-nots. Imagine what this might do for many home care workers, who are low-income and would vastly benefit from decent internet, which is lacking in many parts of the country. If a home care worker could work their shift, come home and take an online class to receive certification or more credentialing, which may lead to higher wages, they may be more invested in home care as a profession.

So leaders of the new alliance, here is a new potential stakeholder: Broadband internet providers. Modernizing our digital infrastructure not only will connect the country, it will lift up industrious workers — people we need more than ever.

Liza Berger is editor of McKnight’s Home Care. Email her at [email protected].