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Home Health Aide Shortage Near Crisis Levels

Sarah Stevenson
By Sarah StevensonSeptember 3, 2012
Home Health Aide Shortage Near Crisis Levels

Tomorrow’s seniors may be on the verge of a home health care crisis, reports Forbes Magazine. How can home care agencies attract enough workers to serve the growing senior population?

Photo credit: Associated Press

With growing numbers of baby boomers getting older, the need for home health care workers is expected to soar over the next decade. But when the median pay for home care aides is comparable to that earned by fast-food workers, and nearly half of home care workers live at or below the poverty line, it may end up being difficult to fill those jobs. And that’s going to be tough for the seniors who rely on health aides to get through the day.

Many Seniors Depend on Home Care Workers

From assisting seniors with household chores and meal preparation to helping the severely disabled dress, eat and bathe, home health aides are indispensable helpers, and may even become trusted companions. Chris Hradisky of Waukegan, Illinois, quoted in the Associated Press, said that his home care aides feel like part of the family: “You build a bond with them.”

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Many seniors wouldn’t be able to live on their own without help, and would instead have to live with relatives or in nursing homes. Just a short daily visit from a home health care worker can make all the difference in a senior’s life and encourage continued independent living.

The Uncertain Future of Home Health Care

Home health care jobs are expected to increase by over a million during the next decade—one of the fastest-growing job sectors, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Unfortunately, there may not be enough willing people to fill those positions.

Part of the problem is salary. It’s not uncommon for starting pay to be $8.50 an hour or less, and the median income for home health care workers in 2010 was just $9.70 per hour. A large number are self-employed, and responsible for their own insurance and transportation costs. It’s no surprise that many aides are forced to work multiple jobs and rely on government programs such as food stamps.

Home health care agencies say that they aren’t able to increase their workers’ pay because of increasing costs on their end. “Agencies that supply home health workers blame states and the federal government for failing to increase reimbursement rates for Medicaid and Medicare patients at a time when costs are going up,” reports the Associated Press. And many states, particularly those with big deficits, are cutting Medicaid spending.

This could be bad news for seniors—and future seniors—whose daily needs are tended to by home health workers. Certainly, the job of home health aide offers flexible hours and ample intrinsic rewards, but attracting the necessary numbers of workers in the future may depend on how home care agencies, states, and federal government decide to address the challenge of monetary compensation.

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