Many older adults who want to age in their communities must rely on paid caregivers to provide long-term care services. But, the two million home care workers in the U.S. have little financial security and therefore too often cannot be relied upon. Moreover, there is little data on how well these paid caregivers deliver home care.
Part of the issue is that traditionally home care workers have been paid precious little. They tend to work for wages that put them below the poverty level and without any benefits. Their hourly wage is about $10 an hour and can be as little as $8. Recently, with support from the SEIU, they have been organizing for fair wages and benefits in the Fight for $15.
According to Kaiser Health News, as a result of strong organizing efforts and with support from President Barack Obama, several hundred thousand home care workers in a dozen states will finally see a significant pay raise over the next few years, along with benefits. The 500,000 of them who have joined the SEIU and other unions will be able to get sick time, health and retirement benefits.
These increases are coming none too soon. With 10,000 people turning 65 every day, the United States is experiencing a huge demand for paid caregivers. So, it’s important that people see home care as a desirable job.
However, the problem remains that we have no sense of how well individual home care workers meet the needs of older adults. These caregivers bathe, feed, dress and otherwise help older adults with activities of daily living. But, no one is overseeing or tracking them at the state or federal levels.
Moreover, home care workers often have no experience. And, with low wages, they tend to move in and out of the profession. The industry has extremely low retention, with an annual turnover rate of about 50 percent. High turnover can jeopardize the health of older adults who cannot rely on the same paid caregivers over time. Background checks for home care workers may not be required. And, they are generally not trained on how to work with patients with dementia or depression. Many home care agencies do not supervise or support their workers.
To make matters worse, there is very little government regulation of the home care industry. Home care agencies often operate with little oversight and may not be serving the interests of their workers or their clients. Recently, six Medicaid agencies in DC were shut down after they were found to be committing Medicaid fraud. The agency shut-downs left their home care workers on the job without pay.
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