Barb Clapp: A bold solution to Florida’s looming health care crisis
Asian nurse helping elder man walking in rehab facility.

Asian nurse helping elder man walking in rehab facility
A dwindling CNA workforce threatens seniors well-being. But we have a bold solution.

By 2030, Florida’s 60 or older population will increase by 11.5%. As Florida’s population ages and welcomes retirees moving to Florida every day, a monumental crisis looms in our health care system: the dwindling number of certified nursing assistants (CNAs).

Florida faces a staggering shortage of nearly 60,000 nurses by 2035. These dedicated professionals form the backbone of our long-term care facilities and hospitals, providing invaluable support. Yet, as the projected demand for their services surges alongside the aging demographic, the shortage of CNAs has reached alarming proportions.

The number of CNAs needs to grow but is declining. Data shows a decrease in the number of new CNAs graduating and passing certification exams each year in Florida, raising concerns about the future availability of CNA care. For every new CNA certified in Florida, more than six CNAs are leaving the profession.

What’s at stake when too few CNAs staff our health care facilities? When patients don’t get timely attention, they experience diminished quality of care and potentially adverse health outcomes. That can lead to complications, longer hospital stays, and increased health care costs for both patients and health care facilities.

A CNA shortage also increases the workload for existing staff, hastening burnout. COVID-19 has already exacted a brutal toll on our health care facilities, particularly front-line nurses. According to data from the Florida Health Care Association, nursing centers have lost nearly 238,000 employees nationwide — or 15% of our total workforce — since the start of the pandemic. In Florida, that accounts for nearly 10,000 jobs lost.

This worrying trend demands urgent attention and decisive action from policymakers, educators, workforce development professionals, and society as a whole. In this Legislative Session, the Legislature addressed the health care workforce shortage by passing SB 7016 and SB 7018, also known as the Live Healthy package. This investment will make a significant difference moving forward, but Florida’s workforce shortage requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. At Dwyer Workforce Development, it certainly has our attention; in fact, solving this crisis is our entire mission.

Dwyer Workforce Development is an innovative nonprofit that provides comprehensive support to individuals who lack opportunity and aspire to pursue a career in the health care industry, with the goal of improving the lives of seniors. We began in Maryland and expanded to Texas and Florida. Here’s how it works: Our “Dwyer Scholars” complete their training, participate in clinicals, and then take the Board of Nursing exam. Once certified, we place students into full-time positions through our large network of long-term care industry partners.

In October 2023, we announced a strategic partnership with CareerSource Brevard with an ambitious goal: to provide scholarships, wraparound services, case management and career coaching to train 50 to 70 CNAs by June 2024. With CareerSource Polk, we recently finalized a partnership to train the same number of CNAs by June 2025. We are currently working to establish additional collaborations in the Panhandle and across the state — with other nonprofits, workforce development boards, and training partners — to create similar programs that provide free CNA training.

Individuals who lack opportunity and seek a career in health care face barriers that can make training and employment feel out of reach. Dwyer Scholars receive robust wraparound services — on a case-by-case basis — including housing assistance, transportation stipends, child care support, case management and mentorship. This support allows them to fulfill program requirements while balancing work and family responsibilities. Notably, becoming a CNA is often just the starting point of a health care career. We are proud to offer Dwyer Scholars full scholarships to achieve their registered nurse license or to pursue stackable credentials and additional advanced training for other health care roles, such as medical technician, pharmacy technician and licensed practical nurse.

Our program is working. In 2023, Dwyer trained 2,053 scholars in Maryland and Texas. Our goal for 2024 is to train 3,275 scholars, with many of those success stories written right here in the Sunshine State.

While Dwyer’s entry into Florida marks a significant milestone toward our commitment to cultivating a robust health care workforce and improving senior care, we’re only getting started in the state. We know we can’t solve this problem alone, so we look forward to developing many more collaborative relationships with government, health care providers, educational institutions, and community stakeholders across the state.

Join us in making a difference — your partnership can help shape the future of health care in Florida by alleviating the CNA workforce shortage and ensuring the quality care Florida’s aging population deserves.


Barb Clapp is CEO of Dwyer Workforce Development, a nonprofit that supports individuals who aspire to careers in the health care industry.

Guest Author


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