Be Wise, Immunize! New Site Offers Resources & FAQs about the COVID-19 Vaccine

BAYADA Home Health Care nurse, Kristy Godfrey after getting immunized.

Home care industry groups, providers, and advocates across the country recognize the importance that the COVID-19 vaccine has on the home care community. The vaccine will help protect frontline caregivers, their vulnerable clients, and their loved ones from contracting the dangerous virus. But studies show that, currently, caregivers feel that they do not have enough information to make an informed decision about getting vaccinated.

Great news! The Partnership for Medicaid Home-based Care (PMHC)—a Washington, DC-based home care advocacy group—recently launched their “Be Wise, Immunize” website, designed to educate caregivers and the home care community at-large about the vaccine, address questions that have frequently been raised about the vaccine, and help guide individuals who are interested in learning more about the vaccine and signing up to receive their shot.

Among the website’s features:

We need your help to keep our communities safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have received the vaccine and are willing to provide a photo and/or a testimonial about your experience, please contact us today. We would love to feature you to help encourage other caregivers to Be Wise and Immunize!

DE Mom LaToya Martin Makes Headlines to Advocate for Son Massiah

Delaware’s capital—Dover—has its fair share of advocates: Nearly every day, residents and special interest groups from around the state gather in Legislative Hall to share their messages with decision makers. Recently, LaToya Martin—mother of 7-year-old Massiah Jones—made her challenges with the state’s availability of in-home nursing clear to not only local lawmakers, but with many people across the nation.

“For LaToya, advocacy is part of her everyday life.”

LaToya’s opinion piece was published in USA Today Network’s Delaware Online, and was also picked up by Scary Mommy—a powerful website for millions of women that coins itself “one of the largest, most influential and trusted sources of entertainment and information for millennial moms online.”

For LaToya, advocacy is part of her everyday life. Massiah is medically-fragile and suffers from a rare seizure disorder as a result of complications from Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC). LaToya regularly serves as Massiah’s advocate in calls and appointments with doctors offices, insurance, and with the state of Delaware. Due to her dedication to her son’s health and his ability to live his best possible life, Massiah has been able to grow up and thrive safely at home with her, and with the help of in-home private duty nursing (PDN).

Challenges accessing nursing care

Recently, Massiah unfairly lost many of his authorized PDN hours due to the COVID virus’s effect on his ability to go to school. Always going any length to be Massiah’s voice—and the voice of many other medically-complex families around Delaware and the US—LaToya shared her powerful and unique story, citing her challenges with accessing nursing care and the inability of home health care providers to recruit and retain enough nurses due to the state’s low Medicaid reimbursement rates for Delaware’s PDN program. Her topmost priority is to show Dover’s decisionmakers why there needs to be a change in order to ensure the health and safety of Delaware’s most vulnerable children, and to empower other mothers and caregivers to unify their voices to do the same.

Advocacy Works:

Hundreds of thousands of mothers, fathers, guardians, and other caregivers have a story to tell, but understandably, find it difficult to find the time and opportunity to share their voices. At Hearts for Home Care, we help those that care about home care by enabling you to get involved at the capacity in which you’re able to do so. Email us at advocacy@bayada.com or follow us on Facebook.com/Hearts4HomeCare in order to learn more about the home care advocacy community and find opportunities to get involved.

Advocacy in Delaware: Super-mom Kateri Morton Advocates on ABC and in Dover

Mom Kateri Morton (right) was featured on ABC-47 with son Joey (left) to advocate for increased funding for DE’s PDN program

Hearts for Home Care super-advocate and super-mom Kateri Morton was recently featured on ABC-47 alongside her 8-year-old son Joey and his long-time nurse Diane to advocate for better state Medicaid reimbursement rates. To date, Delaware has not raised reimbursement rates for the state’s private duty nursing (PDN) program in 16 years. As funding for this important program falls behind rising costs of living and providing healthcare services, it’s families like Kateri’s that ultimately suffer.

“Most of our nurses have either left or stopped working in that area because of their own health factors. Or they had to go to different jobs for employment,” says Kateri. Home care agencies rely on the state’s reimbursement rate to provide nurses’ wages, supplies, training, and benefits. The 16-year stagnation has driven nurses to seek employment in hospitals and other facilities that can afford to pay nurses more in wages. As agencies struggle to recruit and retain enough caregivers, families experience more unfilled nursing shifts, sleepless nights, and struggles maintaining employment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the issue, as staffing issues have limited nurses’ ability to care for high-risk clients and as precious personal protective equipment (PPE) has raised providers’ everyday costs. Nurse Diane says, “We’re struggling. We can’t retain our nurses, and with COVID going on, more and more families are being touched by home care nursing.”

One of the most compelling aspects of the reimbursement rate issue in Delaware and across the US is that increasing families’ access to home care would save state Medicaid programs significant funding dollars that currently go toward care that residents receive in ERs, hospitals, and other facilities.

The key to getting this issue on the top of legislators’ minds is to increase the number of affected family members who speak out and advocate on behalf of themselves and their children. Kateri’s network of DE moms and other guardians have shared their unique stories and struggles with one another, and with Delaware’s decision-makers. Recently, Kateri secured meetings with Delaware’s Medical Advisory Committee and the Department of Health and Social Services. “Advocating for Joey has empowered me. Without nursing, I can’t provide financially, physically, and emotionally to my fullest,” says Kateri. “As mothers of medically fragile children… when there is an opportunity to show an elected official how important this care is, that story paints a picture that a million facts and statistics cannot.”

Kateri recently created a Facebook group for DE families interested in advocacy. Check out her group and Hearts for Home Care to join others in advocacy opportunities today!

In New Hampshire, Home Care Advocacy Brings Results

BAYADA Home Health Care’s pediatric client G (Gina) with her her nurse Laura.

While much of the home health care community continued to reel from the onslaught of challenges faced from the COVID-19 pandemic, Hearts for Home Care advocate and BAYADA Home Health Care office director Cathy Slack has remained focused on the many positives. Namely, throughout the pandemic, she witnessed many caregivers, office staff, clients, and families advocate for better access to care, and also witnessed the state government’s response to hearing these voices.

One of the major wins that New Hampshire’s home care community saw as a result of their continued advocacy was the development of the Long-Term Care Stabilization Stipend Program (LTCSS), which served to borrow money from the state’s General Fund in order to offer stipends to essential healthcare staff to continue to work throughout the pandemic.

The state’s actions created an incredible domino effect that kept the positive changes coming. In Cathy’s office, coverage hours and the number of employed nurses both increased as RNs and LPNs transferred their passion for caregiving from their usual settings to the home care community. One such example is former full-time school nurse Laura Walker, who came to home care full-time after COVID suddenly halted normal school activity. Her transition was an immense positive for both Laura and her pediatric client, G, and G’s family. Laura’s care enabled them to feel security and peace-of-mind as G’s medical and academic routine suddenly flipped without warning.

“One day my medically fragile, intellectually disabled child went to school every day from 8 am to 3 pm where she was cared for by a nursing team and then came home to nursing services from the time she got off the bus until she went to bed. G’s school transferred to remote learning seamlessly, but how would my daughter respond to this new way of learning?” said G’s mom Michele. “My biggest concerns were: would she remain engaged without the school nurse keeping her safe, and how would she remain healthy at home with this gap in medical services? This is where Laura stepped up and went above and beyond.”

“These nurses put their own safety on the line to not stay home every day but to come out and care for our child. The stipend they earned through the state’s program was well deserved and I am grateful as a parent and a citizen of New Hampshire that the monetary recognition was given,” says Michele.

Michelle’s testimony is one of many that shows how medically-fragile families were given a lifeline through LTCSS during a time of uncertainty. Thank you to the many Hearts for Home Care Advocates, and to the State of New Hampshire, for making this lifeline available to the many residents that need home care to stay safe and healthy at home. To find out more about how Hearts for Home Care operates in New Hampshire or elsewhere, contact us at advocacy@bayada.com.

2019 National Ambassador of the Year: Shelby Myers

Advocacy became part of the culture at BAYADA Home Health Care a little over 10 years ago out of a need for a collective voice to speak on behalf of our clients, families, and field staff who are impacted every day by home care. As Chief Government Affairs Officer Dave Totaro, likes to say, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” And that’s what we did. We banded together a voluntary group of advocates within the company with the single purpose of acting as a voice for those in the home care community that may not have had the opportunity otherwise ─ they are our Hearts for Home Care Ambassadors. 

Our ambassadors serve as the liaison between the Hearts for Home Care advocacy team and their co-workers and home care community. Their primary responsibility is to develop and foster relationships with their direct-constituent legislators to spread awareness and advocate for better wages for field staff, more approved hours for clients, and the overall governmental investment in the home care industry. Year after year, our ambassadors go above and beyond to ensure legislators are aware of the crucial importance of home care for so many families across the country. 

A few weeks ago, Hearts for Home Care presented the 2019 National Ambassador of the Year award to Shelby Myers for her role as a dedicated, passionate, and influential ambassador. As an ambassador in New Jersey, Shelby’s advocacy efforts were abundant ─ She developed her own platform to share client and employee stories through a podcast, Clayton’s Voice, she arranged home visits in which she invited legislators into the home of a client to showcase the everyday process of care, she arranged legislative roundtables with office staff and key decision makers, and she also met with many legislators individually advocating on her own.  For these reasons and many more, Shelby was the clear choice as the 2019 honoree.

Shelby Myers:

“This award is truly a culmination of efforts by so many individuals. Although I humbly accept it, by no means am I the primary recipient – that honor should be given to the families I was privileged to represent. Their powerful and sometimes heartbreaking stories, were the driving force behind legislation in New Jersey. I have no doubt that their voices were echoed in the ears of our lawmakers as they were voting on important home care legislation. Our role as ambassadors is essential to the well-being of our clients, families, and the compassionate field staff that takes care of them. Hearts for Home Care offers something that many of them have lost – hope. H4HC shifts the impossibility of their situation to a probability of hopeful change. Not only can we evoke change legislatively, but we empower families by showing how even the smallest of voices can create the largest of changes ─ I truly held this privilege in the highest regard. As Emerson so eloquently expressed in his description of success, “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!” I feel enormously blessed and grateful for every family I met, every story I heard, and every hand I held this past year. Additionally, I want to thank all of the BAYADA employees who gave me the opportunity to meet their clients and families, to the Hearts for Home Care team for the advocacy experiences you foster to elicit change, and to all of my mentors – thank you for changing my life.”

Advocacy Essential to Clearing Up New Jersey Home Care Funding Uncertainty

New Jersey Troy Singleton meets with home care advocates from BAYADA - Personal Care Assistant (PCA) program funding and minimum wage
Hearts for Home Care advocates share the importance of home care with NJ Senator Troy Singleton

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about changes in almost every facet of society. Impacted most severely has been our aging and elderly populations. The home care community has certainly felt the shock wave from this pandemic across all aspects of client care and operations, but in the hardest hit states such as New Jersey, the fate of home care looms.

As New Jerseyans continue to adapt to and understand the effects of this virus, one of the key takeaways has been the value and safety that New Jersey’s Personal Care Assistant (PCA) program provides. The PCA program allows New Jersey residents to stay independent, safe, and healthy in their homes. Simultaneously, this level of care diverts these often infection-prone clients from more congested group settings and nursing home placements, while saving the state tens of thousands of dollars a year per individual.

Currently, the PCA program faces funding uncertainty on the horizon as New Jersey is set to increase the state minimum wage to $12/hr. on January 1. However, the state has yet to permanently commit to adequate increases in PCA funding. State funding covers not only personal care assistant wages, but also training, benefits, and supplies. Compounding this issue, COVID-19 has driven up the costs across all fields of business including expensive PPE and adequate compensation for our frontline workers that provide this vital service.  

What is the solution? Well, as Dr. Seuss once said in The Lorax, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Advocacy is the solution. It is evidently clear how essential home care is to so many medically fragile individuals − it is the saving grace that allows these residents to stay safe, healthy, and happy in the place they feel most comfortable. However, many decision-makers are not always aware of how crucial a program like PCA is to their constituents.

This is where advocacy plays such a significant role in raising awareness around the value of home care. Personal stories from clients, families, and employees highlight the compassion and care that the PCA program provides, while best contextualizing the benefits of the program to legislators. If you, or someone you know has been benefited from home care, please reach out to your legislator and urge them to support adequate funding to the PCA program. It is imperative that the state addresses this funding shortfall so that agencies can continue to attract and retain the high-quality home health aides that keep elderly and medically fragile New Jerseyans well-cared for in the comfort of their own homes.

Recognition and Fair Compensation for Frontline Home Care Workers—During COVID and Beyond

By: Dave Totaro, Chairman of the Partnership for Medicaid Home-based Care

Below, please find an opinion piece authored by Dave Totaro—Chairman of the Partnership for Medicaid Home-based Care (PMHC) and BAYADA Home Health Care’s Chief Government Affairs Officer. This was originally published in the Scranton Times-Tribune on May 10, 2020.

Our nation’s frontline healthcare workers have been recognized during the COVID-19 pandemic, arguably more than ever before—and rightfully so. These essential workers put their health and safety on the line in order to make sure that the most vulnerable populations are taken care of. But these workers—particularly the caregivers that keep these individuals at home and out of riskier settings like nursing homes—deserve more than cheers, front lawn signs, and complimentary cups of coffee. It is time that our federal and state governments fairly compensate these brave and compassionate workers for the sacrifices that they are making during this critical time through Hazard Pay—that is, temporary increases in hourly wages for workers who are risking the most yet earning the least.

Congress has passed three stimulus bills so far, and have done so quickly and commendably with an eye toward helping the economy and the unemployed. But these packages have not yet focused on compensation for those who are working—the essential employees that risk their safety to care for the many that can’t help themselves. And while many healthcare professionals within hospitals and institutions have been impacted, the federal government has not yet prioritized the caregivers that keep people healthy at home.

Congress is currently working on the fourth (and likely final) stimulus bill. This presents a vital opportunity to increase Hazard Pay for healthcare workers who put their safety on the line every day. While the first three stimulus packages have increased emergency funding for states, only a handful of states have used those funds to increase pay for frontline healthcare workers. Currently, there are three potential proposals that would serve to increase pay for these workers across the US—either of which would reward home care workers and incentivize many to begin or continue their career in a field that is much-needed during this time.

Home care workers—particularly home health aides—are largely females of color who are making slightly above minimum wage. Yet they are some of the most essential workers—caring for those who are unable to care for themselves. And not only is their job physically and emotionally tolling, but the prioritization of hospital care has made it increasingly harder for home care agencies to access personal protective equipment, such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and gowns, for these workers. And, to top it all off, we are regarding them as heroes without considering fair compensation for their commitment and sacrifice.

Now more than ever, the potential dangers that go hand-in-hand with nursing home living are becoming a frightening reality and we as a nation need to consider the future of healthcare as our population continues to age. Nearly 20% of COVID-related deaths have occurred in nursing homes. Not only is in-home care the best way to ensure that the most at-risk populations—seniors and the medically fragile—stay as isolated as possible rather than be grouped in together, it also ensures that they are in the most cost-effective setting for their families and for the state and federal governments themselves.

COVID-19 has hit many Americans hard, and few are exempt from at least some negative consequences as a result. But it is clear that there are some who are risking more than others, and who are sacrificing their personal safety in order to keep others healthy and independent at home… both in times of crisis and times of normalcy. So while the recognition and support of frontline workers is certainly appreciated, it does little to truly show home care workers how valuable they are. Through the development of the fourth stimulus package, the federal government has the opportunity to meaningfully show at-home caregivers what they mean to America—both now and in the future. Home health care has been making headlines in recent media coverage.

In order to join those who are advocating for better home health care funding and policies on behalf of beneficiaries, their families, and frontline workers, contact us at advocacy@bayada.com

NJ Mom Dana Insley: Support Children like Abi: Raise Wages for Nurses who Care for New Jersey’s Medically Fragile

NJ Blog Takeover: Dana Insley writes about her medically-complex daughter, Abi’s, story—and how NJ’s Private Duty Nursing (PDN) program has helped her overcome her circumstances.

Abi Insley relies on in-home nursing to stay safe and healthy at home

My 8-year-old daughter Abi had the unfortunate circumstance to be born into the wrong family. After a perfectly healthy start with her twin sister, they were saved from their parents’ abuse at two months old: broken, beaten, and shaken within an inch of their lives. After months in the hospital, we were able to bring Abi’s twin sister Gabi home to be adopted, while Abi’s condition continued: She was declared brain dead twice, was dependent on a ventilator to breathe, and we were told she was 100% deaf and blind, and that she would never eat, speak, or breathe on her own.

It took two years of fighting until we were finally able to bring her home with pediatric skilled nursing home care services—a benefit that she receives under New Jersey’s private duty nursing (PDN) program. Without this program, Abi would likely still live in a full-time skilled nursing facility today. It is because of these incredible nurses that Abi has been able to beat her original diagnosis—she is thriving at home alongside her parents, siblings, and nurses, who are like family to us. But every day remains a challenge—Abi needs round-the-clock attention for her medical complexities, and yet we are unable to fill all the nursing shifts that she is prescribed and medically authorized for. When even one shift is missed, that means that my husband and I, who are not medical experts, must act as her nurses. We often miss out on sleep, and on caring for our other children. We consistently struggle to fill five or more shifts every week, and this not only puts Abi’s health in danger, but also puts her at risk to end up back in a facility, or worse.

The problem lies in low state funding rates for the PDN program, which has not been increased in over a decade. In that same time frame, costs of living and wages for nurses in other settings, like hospitals and nursing homes, have steadily risen. Now, nurses are leaving the home care industry to take jobs at facilities where they can earn more and better support their own families. BAYADA and other home care providers struggle to hire and keep enough nurses to meet the demand, and as a result, families like mine suffer. 

Abi has overcome so much, but her abusive past has left her medically-complex for life. Amongst her myriad of health issues, she is legally blind, suffers from a rare life-threatening form of epilepsy, and she requires special medical equipment to eat. This is not a child that we can simply hire a babysitter for. Her high level of care and constant need for monitoring makes it impossible to have any sense of normalcy without capable & consistent nursing support.

Abi’s nurses and their presence in our lives, have impacted our whole family. The all-consuming task of caring for a medically fragile child requires specially-trained, consistent, reliable, skilled nursing care. Her incredible nurses have become an integral part of our home and of her care. Because of her nurses’ attentive care, many health issues that have arisen have been addressed early, rather than mounting into serious ones. Her nurses have been with her through countless sicknesses, surgeries, therapies, and more doctor appointments than we could possibly count. But as home nursing wages have remained stagnant over 10+ years, we can’t blame the nurses that have had to take full-time positions elsewhere. But we are constantly hoping and praying for some relief.

No child deserves to grow up in an institution.  My precious daughter brings many challenges to our home, but it would be heartbreaking to have to put her in a facility for lack of nursing support. I urge the state legislature to consider increasing funding to the PDN program. Competitive wages would bring stability to her home care nursing and allow our family and families like us to stay together and thrive. Please choose to make a difference.

-Dana Insley, Sicklerville

About the NJ Blog Takeover: For the next few weeks, Hearts for Home Care will be featuring posts authored by NJ families affected by the state’s shortage of in-home nurses and home health aides to showcase the need for increased funding for New Jersey’s Private Duty Nursing (PDN) and Personal Care Assistant (PCA) programs. For more information on how you can get involved and let your elected officials know why increased in-home nursing availability is important to you, email advocacy@bayada.com

NJ PCA Beneficiary Keith Braswell: New Jersey Paraplegic’s Life Put on Hold When Home Health Aide is not Available

Many New Jersey seniors and adults with disabilities are able to stay safe and independent at home due to assistance from Home Health Aides (HHAs) under the state’s Personal Care Assistant (PCA) program

NJ Blog Takeover: Paraplegic Keith Braswell writes about his life with a severe disability – and how working with his aide through NJ’s Personal Care Assistant (PCA) program has helped him to live life on his own terms.

My name is Keith Braswell and a car accident in 2008 forced my entire way of life to change. I was left paraplegic and since then, I have been able to remain a vital, active member of my community thanks to the help of my home health aide, Quisela. As a 46-year-old adult, it can be tough for me to rely on someone else for everything from getting out of bed, bathing, eating laundry etc., but Quisela does everything she can to make sure that I feel safe and comfortable.

While Quisela is very reliable, filling all of my state-approved 40 hours of care without a day off, her choice to stay working as a home health aide is becoming more unrealistic by the day. This is because New Jersey’s Medicaid reimbursement rates under the Personal Care Assistant (PCA) program—the one that I and thousands of others like me rely on—don’t allow for aides to make a fairwage for the compassionate work they do. For example, in Newton, aides make minimum wage to slightly above minimum wage, and can often secure jobs with less required training, stress, and physical requirements at places like Walmart, Home Depot or Dollar General—all of which are located within the municipality or along route 206. This is especially true since NJ raised minimum wage in the beginning of year, while the Medicaid reimbursement rate remained stagnant.

I am beyond appreciative of how important Quisela’s vigilant and caring work is to my life, and I frequently go out of my way to make sure she is paid as much as possible, like booking my recent surgery around her vacation time to make sure that she wouldn’t lose any hourly pay. If I were to ever lose my aide, I would likely be forced into an institution which means losing what remains of my independence along with the quality of one-on-one care that I receive at home.

I humbly ask that the state legislature consider an increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates, so that individuals like myself can continue to choose to live independently at home. Many choices were taken away from me because of my injury, and losing this choice as well would be heartbreaking for myself and for thousands like myself across the state of New Jersey.

-Keith Braswell, Newton

About the NJ Blog Takeover: For the next few weeks, Hearts for Home Care will be featuring posts authored by NJ families affected by the state’s shortage of in-home nurses and home health aides to showcase the need for increased funding for New Jersey’s Private Duty Nursing (PDN) and Personal Care Assistant (PCA) programs. For more information on how you can get involved and let your elected officials know why increased in-home nursing availability is important to you, email advocacy@bayada.com.

Michelle Lino-Corona: New Jersey Paraplegic’s Life Put on Hold When In-Home Nursing is not Available

NJ Blog Takeover: Michelle, who is the sister of TBI Victim Brandy Lino-Corona, writes about her sister’s life after becoming severely disabled – and how working with nurses through NJ’s Private Duty Nursing (PDN) program has helped her family define their new normal.

Brandy’s family and caregivers surround her bed in her Absecon, NJ home

For the victims of traumatic brain injuries, access to reliable home health care can be the deciding factor that keeps people either permanently institutionalized, or at home with their loving families. My 17-year-old sister, Brandy, suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) from a severe car accident in September of 2018. Since then, the state of New Jersey has authorized 16 hours of specialized nursing care per day for Brandy. This care allows her to stay safe at home, and allows my father, mother, and I to lead proactive, fulfilling lives outside the home. However, Brandy rarely receives all of her authorized hours due to New Jersey’s inequitable Medicaid reimbursement rates for their state-funded Private Duty Nursing (PDN) program.

The severity of Brandy’s injuries left her incapable of moving, eating and even breathing on her own. Nurses that work with her need to be up-to-date on life-saving techniques such as tracheostomy care, respiratory treatments, suctioning, monitoring vital signs, feeding tube care and feedings and administering meditations. Additionally, Brandy must be readjusted every two hours in order to combat her risk of skin breakdown and bedsores. This regularly poses as an obstacle when nurses miss their scheduled shifts as this task requires two people due to her size.

Like so many medically-complicated residents of New Jersey, my sister is at risk of institutionalization and/or hospitalization without the proper nursing care she requires. With potential caregivers persuaded by competitive wages and less physically and mentally taxing employment, eligible patients’ access to qualified healthcare professionals diminishes. New Jersey’s legislators need to consider the plight of their most vulnerable constituents and make the decision to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates. An increase in New Jersey’s Medicaid reimbursement rates would provide a second lease on life for Brandy and those like her, as well as instill a sense of hope for their families whose only desire is to be able to continue to care for their loved one in their own home.

-Michelle Lino, Absecon

About the NJ Blog Takeover: For the next few weeks, Hearts for Home Care will be featuring posts authored by NJ families affected by the state’s shortage of in-home nurses and home health aides to showcase the need for increased funding for New Jersey’s Private Duty Nursing (PDN) and Personal Care Assistant (PCA) programs. For more information on how you can get involved and let your elected officials know why increased in-home nursing availability is important to you, email advocacy@bayada.com