For nearly a decade, state resources for workers who care for aging seniors have been anemic. Direct care workers are on the frontlines of care for our seniors, but they continue to earn low wages — sometimes only slightly higher than the minimum wage.
While the price of food, gas and medicine has gone up, the pay for in-home care workers has been frozen or cut. As a result, home care agencies are struggling to recruit and maintain a qualified workforce that can meet the current demand for in-home care.
Agencies already have wait lists for services, and the demand for services is expected to grow. Maine seniors and those who care for them deserve better.
That’s why as a direct care worker and leader of the Direct Care Alliance, I was encouraged to hear Speaker of the House Mark Eves announce his “KeepME Home” plan to help seniors age in place in their homes and communities. A critical component of his plan would raise Medicaid reimbursement rates for those who care for seniors and make it possible for them to live independently.
It is a step in the right direction. In a recent tele-town hall with nearly 2,000 people, Eves’ plans got much praise and support from seniors and workers alike.
If older adults in Maine are going to live independently in their homes and communities, the state must increase its resources to support workers who provide critical in-home care and personal support services for our aging population. The increase would result in a stronger workforce for our seniors and a better living for workers.
From delivering meals to taking vital signs to helping those living with dementia remain safe, from assessing health status to guiding vulnerable people through activities of daily living and maintaining households, these services are critical for older adults who live independently and their families. Providing these services to seniors in their homes prevents unnecessary emergency department visits, hospitalizations and institutionalization in nursing facilities. It is a wise investment for the state, for our economy, and for our seniors and families
I’ve worked in home care and in a nursing facility for more than a decade. I’d rather work in home care, and most seniors would rather age at home rather than in an institutional facility. But $10.01 an hour, what I earned as a direct care worker, is simply not enough to pay your bills, especially when you have to maintain a vehicle along with insurance on that vehicle. The direct care agency may pay the worker for time traveling between clients’ homes, but it doesn’t cover the cost of car repairs and maintenance, and it may leave the worker short of money for gasoline. In-home care positions often do not provide health care coverage, so many times those who care for our seniors are left without insurance when they get sick.
The system is broken. Without the workers willing to do the job, there is no long-term care system. All the administrators and agencies in the world could not get by without someone willing to do the direct care work.
If the state does not shift resources, the direct care worker industry will be in jeopardy. It faces a crisis that could leave Maine’s rapidly aging residents, many of whom are low-income, with few options. By boosting reimbursement rates, the state will stave off a crisis for seniors while also putting more money in the pockets of workers.
It is a win for our seniors, our workers and our economy.
Helen Hanson of China is a worker advocate for the Direct Care Alliance of Maine and a former direct care worker.