In 2014, the New York Times reported that the United States was facing a startling shortage of caregivers. Even though caregiving was named as one of the occupations expected to grow the most between the years of 2012 and 2022 (adding approximately 580,800 new positions – that the fourth and sixth most rapidly growing occupations were home health aides and nursing assistants), new hires were scarce.
In fact, the NYT projected that 1.3 million new paid caregivers would be needed to meet the country’s demand for home health services over the next ten years. And even that might be an underestimation.
No matter how you cut it, one thing is very clear: there’s a drastic shortage of skilled and qualified home health providers in this country. The reasons for the shortage are numerous: low pay, hard work, heavy care burdens, pervasive feelings of loss and grief, and high turnover rates within the industry.
While a significant demand and a limited supply tend to drive up prices in the labor market and make a given occupation more attractive, that’s not necessarily the case with home health.
Although many people looking in from the outside may assume that rising demand for home health services would mean better pay and positive job outlook, most home care agencies have their services paid for by Medicare or Medicaid. As such, the financial pressures on home health aides and their counterparts is massive, and it’s unlikely that the industry will see sharp wage increases anytime soon.
Luckily, all hope is not lost for the home health industry. While it’s true that the need for qualified home health aides is extreme, it’s also true that the industry is rallying to find solutions for this pervasive problem.
Although people within the home care industry already know the answer to this question, people outside of it might not. While home health is the topic that’s easy to ignore when you don’t work within it, home health care provides aging, ill, ailing, and home-bound individuals with the attention, assistance, service, and support they need to maintain the activities of daily living. In many cases, home care is what allows these patients to maintain their independence, and to stay out of costly nursing homes for as long as possible.
Today, there are roughly 2,200,000 home health aides working throughout the US. While that may seem like a large number, experts estimate that the workforce will need to add another 630,000 by the year 2024 to cope with the influx of aging baby boomers. New York State alone is projected to need an additional 125,000 home care aides by 2024. If the state doesn’t see this influx of home care workers, it is highly likely that elderly, ailing, and impaired individuals throughout the state will see some of their most essential health services and requirements go unmet, which will drive more patients to assisted living facilities and nursing homes, at costs many of them cannot afford.
To put it simply, allowing the home care industry to stagnate isn’t an option. In addition to the fact that thousands of seniors and patients across the country rely on the home care services provided to them by these various professionals, home care is often more affordable and accessible than residence in an assisted living facility, which makes it ideal for low-income seniors and patients.
Fortunately, there are several solutions currently working to reinvigorate the home care industry and draw qualified new caregivers in. Here are three of the primary solutions:
While it’s true that a nation-wide wage increase for home care workers is unlikely, individual states are taking it upon themselves to improve wages on a local level. New York State particularly has made strong attempts to raise the minimum wage for home health workers. Right now, home health aides in New York State earn approximately $11 an hour, while wages can be much lower in upstate and rural areas.
To address this concern, the Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo has approved a budget proposal that would allow nearly $6 billion for home health care reimbursements over the coming years. This would allow agencies to transition their minimum wages to $15 an hour, a $4/hour raise from the previous $11/hour.
This initiative is meant to attract new workers to the home health industry, and retain them once they arrive. Similar legislation has passed in Maine and Arizona.
Another popular approach to the shortage of home health workers is the rise of consumer-directed care programs. Consumer-directed care programs, such as the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program, pervasive throughout New York state, give at-home patients control over their caregiving needs. Under this program, at-home patients can select, hire, train, and pay the caregiver of their choice.
Although this may not seem extraordinary, it does one essential thing: it allows patients to pay their family or loved ones for caregiving duties performed. Before these programs, securing pay for these caregivers was nearly impossible, as patients often do not have the resources to provide income for their family caregivers, which results in undue burden and financial hardship for family caregivers.
While these caregivers are typically happy to perform the service required of them, acting as a caregiver can be a dramatic economic, personal, and emotional strain, since most caregivers also have dependent spouses or children to care for, and jobs to maintain outside of the home care environment. The advance of consumer directed health programs allows patients to take some of the burdens off their home caregivers and make the important work of caregiving less of a financial liability.
Another possible solution to the home health aide shortage is to enhance employee incentives. If employees feel as if more of their needs are covered by their jobs, there’s a possibility they’ll flock to the field with renewed focus. As such, independent care agencies around the country are taking steps to provide hardworking caregivers with incentives like sick pay and health insurance.
There’s no doubt about it: caregivers serve a critical role, and they deserve to be treated as such. When the industry shifts its focus back to caregivers, the industry and its individual patients benefit massively. By making the home health industry more attractive for caregivers, through increased incentives, higher wages, and pay for family caregivers, reversing the caregiver shortage and ensuring a bright future for patients and their families becomes possible.