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Seniorgram: Sending a Message on Senior Issues

Barbara Bodzin, LifePath Executive DirectorBarbara Bodzin, Executive Director

Questioning our priorities - the crisis in home care

Nationwide, there are approximately 3 million home care workers who provide the much-needed care to enable elders and persons with disabilities to remain in their homes. These vital services are typically delivered by highly empathic workers who offer support, companionship and assistance with tasks such as bathing, dressing, housework and shopping. As the aging population continues to grow, the ever-increasing demand for direct service workers is creating a looming worker shortage, leaving many positions unfilled.

Intrinsic to the direct service worker shortage are low wages, limited opportunities for advancement, lack of respect, physically taxing work, inconsistent hours and meager or non-existent benefits packages. Stagnant wages have left 20% of all home care workers living below the poverty level.

Approximately one quarter of these direct service workers are immigrants. Changes in immigration policy and restrictions under consideration by the White House are further fueling the critical shortage of home care staff. The impact to DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients who may be forced to leave the United States, travel bans, deportations and termination of temporary protected status of workers from select countries have negatively impacted an already strained industry.

Feb 2019 SG Questioning our Priorities The Crisis in Home Care photoMany of the people who are home care workers are immigrants, and many more people are needed to address the worker shortage in this vital and growing industry.

The loss of valuable home care workers is occurring as:

  • Legal residents of the United States are moving back to their country of origin when relatives are deported
  • Undocumented immigrants, who are a significant part of the “gray market” where clients pay privately and out-of-pocket through an unregulated network of direct service workers are exiting the workforce.
  • Home health training programs for Latino immigrants are seeing reductions in enrollments.
  • Whole communities are feeling targeted with workers oftentimes wanting to limit their activities outside of the home.
  • These dynamics are dissuading program graduates from entering the workforce due to immigration-related anxieties.

“We have a caregiver shortage, and implementing policies like immigration reform is just going to exacerbate that shortage even more,” Carelinx CEO Sherwin Sheik said at a Home Health Care News summit. “We have to recognize who is taking care of our seniors and embrace them, rather than close the door.”

As the number of elders increases relative to the young, so will the growing shortage of workers to provide the care. Our social obligation needs to shift to ensure the security of elders and persons with disabilities through the availability and provision of quality care. Older immigrants should have the option to receive assistance from those who speak their native language. Welcoming immigrants helps grow the home care workforce and enhances the industry with respectful caring attitudes and cultural competencies possessed by workers of diverse ethnic origins.

Only through the development of this workforce and elevation of the status of home care workers will we be able to properly attend to the needs of this population that is expected to soar in the years ahead.