Elderly people wait for home care for several months
Castine, Maine — For years, Louise Shackett has had a long struggle to walk and stand, making it difficult to clean and wash homes in southeastern Maine. The 80-year-old Shackett stopped driving, making it difficult to go to grocery stores and doctors.
However, her low income qualifies for a state program that pays a personal assistant 10 hours a week to help with household chores and errands.
“It helps to make me independent,” she said.
However, due to high turnover and a shortage of aides, visits are inconsistent and cousins help take care of her, but may leave her without assistance for months at a time. .. “I need to get the help I need and I should be qualified,” said Shackett, who hasn’t had an aide since late March.
The Maine home care program supports Shackett and more than 800 other people in the state, with a waiting list of 925 people. According to Maine officials, who have the country’s oldest population, those applicants sometimes lack help for months or years. This increases the risk that many people will fall and lose access to medical and other risks.
The problem is simple. There are too few workers here and in many other parts of the country. Still, the solution is never easy.
Katie Smith Sloan, CEO of Leading Age, a leading non-profit aging service provider, says labor shortages are a national dilemma. “Millions of older people do not have access to the affordable care and services they urgently need,” she said at a recent press conference. She added that state and federal repayment rates to elderly care institutions are not sufficient to cover the cost of quality care and services and to pay caregivers a living wage.
President Joe Biden has allocated $ 400 billion in infrastructure plans to expand home and community-based long-term care services to help people stay outside their homes and long-term care facilities. The Republican Party pointed out that elderly care did not fit the traditional definition of infrastructure. This generally refers to physical projects such as bridges and roads, and last week a bipartisan agreement was reached between Senators Nakamichi, who dealt only with these traditional projects. However, the Democratic Party has stated that another bill would insist on funding some of Biden’s “human infrastructure” programs.
Many senior care advocates are worried that this $ 400 billion will be significantly reduced or eliminated as lawmakers vie for proposals.
However, the need is undeniable, as emphasized by mathematics, especially in places such as Maine where 21% of residents are 65 or older.
Betsy Sawyer-Manter, CEO of Seniors Plus, Maine, one of the two companies running this support program, said: In order to cover. “
For at least 20 years, experts across the country have warned of the disastrous consequences of a shortage of nursing and home assistants as tens of millions of baby boomers have hit the elderly. “Low wages and benefits, harsh working conditions, heavy workloads, and socially stigmatized jobs make it difficult to hire and retain workers,” said the Urban Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2001. The report concludes.
Robyn Stone, co-author of the report and senior vice president of Leading Age, states that many of the labor shortage problems identified in 2001 have only been exacerbated. The risks and obstacles faced by older people during the pandemic have highlighted some of these issues. “Covid has identified the challenges of older people, their vulnerability to this pandemic, and the importance of low-paying front-line care professionals,” she says.
Michael Stair, CEO of Care & Comfort, an agency based in Waterville, Maine, said the labor shortage was the worst he’s seen in the business in 20 years.
“The bottom line is that everything comes down to dollars. Dollars for home care benefits, dollars for competitive payments to people,” he said. Institutions like him are in a tough position to compete for workers who can undertake background checks, special training, and other jobs that do not require people to drive home in bad weather.
“Maine workers can get more rewards for doing other less challenging and more attractive jobs,” he added.
His company serves 1,500 clients, most of whom are enrolled in Medicaid, a federal health program for low-income earners. The staff is about 300 people, but more than 100 people can be used. He said finding workers is the most difficult in urban areas with high employment opportunities, such as Portland and Bangor. Most of his work pays between $ 13 and $ 15 per hour for what McDonald’s restaurants in Maine advertise for entry-level workers.
The state minimum wage is $ 12.15 per hour.
According to Stair, half of his workers retired within the first year, a little better than the industry’s average turnover of 60%. To retain employees, he allows employees to set their own schedules, provides paid training, and offers paid vacations.
“I’m worried that some people don’t take care of them, and some people are getting worse because they don’t take the necessary care,” Stair said.
Medicare does not cover long-term home care.
Medicaid requires states to cover nursing home care for qualified individuals, but home service qualifications are limited and qualifications and benefits vary from state to state. Nevertheless, over the last decade, states, including Maine, have increased funding for groups that provide Medicaid’s home and community services (from medical assistance to housekeeping assistance). People like these services and they cost much less than nursing homes.
The state also funded home care programs like Maine for the same services for people who are not eligible for Medicaid, hoping to prevent older people from needing Medicaid compensation later. It offers.
However, supporters of elderly care say that the demand for home care far exceeds the supply.
The Maine State House bill will raise the reimbursement rate for thousands of home care workers to ensure that they are paid more than the state’s minimum wage.
The state does not set workers’ salaries, only repayment rates.
Low wages and lack of benefits are not the only obstacles to employment of workers, according to experts studying this issue. In addition, home care providers struggle to hire and retain stress-free workers who care for people with disabilities and often those with mental health problems such as dementia and depression. Said Sawyer-Manter of Seniors Plus.
“This is a groundbreaking job,” said Kathleen McCorriff, a home health worker in Biddeford, Maine, who previously worked for the Peace Corps as a Navy medic. She provides housewife services to a state-funded program run by a Catholic charity. She usually visits two clients a day to clean and scrub the floor, wipe the bathroom, vacuum, prepare food, shop for groceries, organize medicine, and go to the doctor. Help with chores such as directions.
Her clients are between the ages of 45 and 85. “When I get in, the laundry is piled up, the dishes are piled up, and everything has to be organized. It’s a lot of work and it’s very burdensome,” said 68-year-old McCorriff. ..
She earns about $ 14 an hour. The job of caring for the frail elderly requires a wide range of skills and training such as safe bathing, but is generally classified as “unskilled” work. She doesn’t benefit from vacation because she works part-time. “Calling us housewives sounds like we’re coming to bake brownies,” she said.
According to Catholic Charity Maine, the Housewife Program serves 2,100 residents of Maine, with more than 1,100 on the waiting list. “We can’t find a workforce,” said organization spokesman Donald Harden.
The federal government is giving the state more dollars for home care, at least temporarily.
The American Rescue Plan, approved by Congress in March, will provide a 10 percent increase in federal Medicaid funding to the state, or approximately $ 13 billion for home and community-based services.
Money that must be spent by March 2024 will provide home care workers with personal protective equipment, train workers, and reduce the state’s waiting list for people to receive services. Can be used to help.
Kathleen McCorriff, a part-time home care worker at Catholic Charities on the outskirts of Portland, Maine, visits two clients a day. She helps with their household chores, food preparation, and taking them to a doctor’s appointment.
Kathleen McCorriff, a Catholic charity home care worker on the outskirts of Portland, Maine, helps client John Gardner with his weekly chores. McCorriff buys Gardner’s groceries, cleans his home, and finishes his errands during his weekly visits.