Thank You for Keeping Me Home: A Message from an Advocate

North Carolina advocate Ari A. during a trip to Washington, D.C.

We often think of advocacy as sharing our stories, our challenges, and asking for legislative support in addressing those challenges. But advocacy is much more multi-faceted: It’s about building relationships by cultivating legislative connections so that they become home care supporters for life, and it’s certainly about saying Thank You when the support pays off by resulting in a law or policy that is beneficial to the individual and to the home care community at-large.

Below, find a Thank You note written by North Carolina home care recipient and Hearts for Home Care advocate Ari A. Ari has been able to thrive and stay independent at home because of the skilled nursing services he receives under North Carolina’s Medicaid program. Recently, he wrote to Medicaid staff to thank them for resolving a critical issue that enabled him to continue these services. Medicaid staff are committed to improving health and well-being of North Carolinians, and their transactions are often behind the scenes and receive little recognition. Hearts for Home Care applauds Medicaid staff across the country for their commitment to helping individuals stay at home, and we applaud Ari for his sincere thankfulness of their work.

To All I Work with in NC DHHS and Medicaid,

Some of you I’ve known for years and some a short time. Through it all, the one and most important factor that has been consistent has been the capacity to care. Time and time again over the years I have had to get battle ready in order to keep my life-saving services. However, instead having to scale cold-hard hearts, impenetrable like a fortress, you invited me into your hearts. You consistently agreed to provide for my intensive care in my home instead of a medical facility; which essentially would have been leaving me out in the cold to die. Instead of fighting me you have been my allies, always being there for me when I needed you the most.

These truths became ever more apparent a couple weeks ago. For the past two years, my mom and I have been getting things ready to transfer my medications, physical therapy, and supplies to Medicare without de-stabilizing my PDN services under Medicaid. It has been a mind numbing, complicated process. We have been hyper-vigilant not to miss any details that could easily be overlooked. We recently turned in sensitive paperwork to the Department of Social Services (DSS) well before the deadline. On November 30 we spoke with the Director of Policy and Procedures for Medicaid Sandy Terrell about how to safeguard my PDN even more during the transition. Ms. Terrell told Saunja Wilson from PDN to double check if everything was in order by the end of the month. Thank God, Ms. Wilson decided to check right away. The sensitive paperwork we emailed to DSS was present, but hadn’t been pulled up yet even though my caseworker had the paperwork in her email. One of the Supervisors at DSS had also confirmed that we had it turned in. We were told email or fax was equally acceptable for documentation.

The breakdown was that this particular caseworker did not use her email for business and preferred to have documents faxed to her. My caseworker tried to alleviate a little bit of pressure off my mom and I by telling us to ignore the ‘Termination of Medicaid Services’ notice in the mail. Yet, the absolute terror that rose up from the pits of our stomachs when we received the notice was totally indescribable! Despite the paperwork being directly faxed to my caseworker, we still waited for the approval. Thankfully over a week later, the situation was taken over by one of the Supervisors at DSS. She rose to the occasion and kindly brought the matter to a close so that my mom and I could peacefully go on with our lives.

Frighteningly, the bottom line is that I am not exaggerating when I say my life would have been ‘Terminated’ if Saunja Wilson from PDN hadn’t been ‘quick on the draw’ to find the error. If Ms. Wilson had waited to check just two or three days later, I wouldn’t have been able to disregard the Termination notice and my life would have been ruined! I say again, Thank God for my champions in NC government. You always rises up out of the mist to do a heroic save! This is what the rest of America could be and should be as far as healthcare policy.

To my old and new friends in DHHS and Medicaid, I appreciate you always having my back. Also, my sincere gratitude to Saunja Wilson for catching a “Near-Miss” that would have been just as deadly to me as a medication overdose.

All of you keep doing a spectacular job and always keep your focus on the people you serve instead of the numbers, especially as NC transitions to Managed Care. If you ever need my help just let me know anytime! My best wishes in the coming year and Happy Holidays!

Sincerely,

Ari A. Charlotte, NC

Advocates in Action: Dimpal Patel Inspires NC Ambassadors at Ambassador Symposium

Client Dimpal P. inspires Ambassadors during North Carolina’s Ambassador Symposium

On March 28, our annual North Carolina Hearts for Home Care Ambassador Symposium took place, where we provided tools and resources to our volunteer Ambassadors. The training focused on a variety of topics, including leading a legislative meeting and building relationships with lawmakers. 

In addition to special guests former Representative Bill Brawley, Senior Healthcare Campaign Director of MomsRising Felicia Burnett, Association for Home & Hospice Care’s VP of Government Affairs Tracy Colvard, and Staff Attorney with Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy Louise Pocock, the shining star of the Symposium was client Dimpal, who inspired all of our Ambassadors with her story of her journey into advocacy.

Beyond detailing the specific challenges she and her family face as a result of low state Medicaid reimbursement rates, Dimpal also described the ways in which home care and her nurses have changed her life and granted her independence:

“Without my nurses, I wouldn’t have been able to go to college and to live a full life. Without them, I’d likely be stuck in a hospital or a nursing home,” said Dimpal.  

It was this gratitude for her nurses that propelled Dimpal to share her story and to advocate for others who rely on the state’s Private Duty Nursing (PDN) program to survive.

To hear more about Dimpal and the importance of advocacy, you can watch her full speech here. You can also read about her nursing care in the Gaston Gazette after a reporter came to her house to learn more about how her nurses impact her everyday life.

Special thanks to our Hearts for Home Care Ambassadors for volunteering their time and talents advocating for our staff and clients!

To learn about ways you can get involved in advocacy, email advocacy@bayada.com today

Legislation Close to our Hearts: NJ Mobility Bill Named after Hearts for Home Care Advocate’s Daughter, Mary!

Mom Tara Montague (left) and daughter Mary (center) during a home visit with Asw. Carol Murphy. Asw. Murphy recently introduced “Mary’s Law.”

Home care supporter and New Jersey Assemblywoman Carol Murphy recently introduced a bill which will address unequal access to the purchase of modified vans through the Catastrophic illness in Children Relief Fund.

Assemblywoman Murphy was alerted to the issue after Hearts for Home Care manager and advocate Tara Montague told her about the issue, and how it has impacted her daughter, Mary, and many of New Jersey’s medically fragile children. Mary and Tara have utilized the fund, and have been important advocates in ensuring the fund is both adequately funded and accessible for the many New Jersey residents that need it.

Currently, families can apply to the Catastrophic Fund to purchase a modified van so that they can safely transport their medically fragile child. However, current regulations require that families pay for the van upfront and wait to be reimbursed by the Fund. This stipulation presents a sincere barrier to transportation for families that cannot afford to front tens of thousands of dollars while they wait to be reimbursed.

Mary’s Law addresses this issue by requiring the Catastrophic Fund to provide direct payments for the purchases of specialized, modified motor vehicles. In addition, this legislation will increase the annual surcharge for New Jersey employers from $1.50 to $3.00 per employee to insure the Catastrophic Fund is adequately funded to meet the its purpose and demands.

“Medically fragile children like Mary deserve to travel safely and freely. This legislation ensures that children and their families receive the help they need regardless of their financial situations. Ever since Mary was born, I’ve been a staunch advocate for her needs and for better laws and policies, but I never thought advocacy could hit so close to home–Mary and our family are ecstatic that we can bring about change for all New Jersey’s children and families that need it,” said Tara.

Thank you to Tara and Mary for continuing to be effective advocates on access to transportation. Hearts for Home Care will continue to provide updates as the legislation progresses through New Jersey committees and chambers. If you have questions about this legislation or how to get more involved in advocacy on behalf of yourself, a loved one, or your staff and clients, please contact advocacy@bayada.com today.

Pennsylvania Homecare Association (PHA) Legislative Day Pictures

On April 9, more than 300 home care advocates—clients, families, caregivers, and employees—joined the Pennsylvania Homecare Association (PHA) at the state capitol in Harrisburg. Advocates met with hundreds of the state’s representatives and senators to deliver an important message: Home care is important to me, and it should be important to you too.

Check out pictures from the legislative reception, the kickoff rally, legislative day meetings, and the PHA press conference! Care about home care and want to share your voice? Check out heartsforhomecare.com or email advocacy@bayada.com to find out how you can get involved in advocacy today!

CLICK TO SEE PICTURES

Home Health Aides’ Low Wages: Turning Public Awareness into Action

Home health aides keep hundreds of thousands of disabled adults and seniors at home and out of costlier settings. Low Medicaid reimbursement rates keep them from making a better wage, and it's up to state governments to address this issue.
Home health aides keep hundreds of thousands of disabled adults and seniors at home and out of costlier settings.

As home care clients, employees, caregivers, and family members, we know one thing for a fact: Home health aides do incredible, compassionate work that enable hundreds of thousands of residents across the country to stay at home and out of costlier, more infectious settings like nursing homes and hospitals. And we certainly know another fact: The work that aides do is invaluable, and it’s time that they begin to receive a fair wage for the hard work they do.

Low aide wages have recently made national headlines and the message is clear: We will need more and more home health aides as America’s population continues to age. But home health care providers are having trouble recruiting and retaining the quality, reliable workforce needed to keep up with the growing demand.

Recently, Hearts for Home Care advocate and BAYADA Home Health Care’s chief government affairs officer, Dave Totaro, submitted his opinion on the matter to STAT News, a media company focused on finding and telling compelling stories about health, medicine, and scientific discovery. He posed the question:

“To say that home health aides’ work is demanding is an understatement. They make it possible for 14 million Americans to stay in their homes and out of expensive and impersonal institutional settings like hospitals and nursing homes. Performing this necessary and in-demand work takes a physical and emotional toll, yet these individuals do it with compassion day in and day out.

So why do we treat home health aides as low-wage, low-value workers?”

The problem lies primarily in states’ low Medicaid funding for home care programs. Though states typically pay an hourly rate for providers who deliver home health aide services, these rates have largely been low for many years, or raised periodically, but at a rate too low to keep up with real costs of living and providing services. Because these rates must cover wages, training, benefits, new hire costs such as background checks and TB shots, and supplies, it is nearly impossible for home health care companies to take such a low rate and provide aides with a wage high enough to compete with industries like fast food and retail.

News coverage of the issue has been effective in bringing greater public awareness to the issue, especially as nearly all individuals will be touched by home care at least once in their lives, whether it be for themselves, a parent, friend, or other loved one. Now is the time to take awareness and turn it into action. Call your state legislator and let them know what home care means to you. Contact advocacy@bayada.com for information on what you can do to share your voice and support home health aides.

Home Health Aides Deserve Better Wages! If Done Right, Mandatory Minimum Wage Increases Will Help

Home health aides provide a lifeline to millions of Americans, but low wages make it difficult to recruit and retain enough to keep up with the demand. If done thoughtfully, mandatory minimum wage increases can help support these valuable workers

It’s undisputable: Home health aides provide a lifeline to millions of Americans that need assistance living where they want to be—at home. But low wages often disincentivize home care workers from staying in the field. The problem lies in Medicaid reimbursement rates: Home health aides rely largely on state-determined Medicaid reimbursement rates for their wages, and those rates have stagnated well below the cost of living—and many states have not addressed this in years.

Luckily, many states have proposed increasing the mandatory minimum wage. And while many businesses often oppose such measures—many home care industry leaders have come out in support of it because they recognize the importance of aides in helping keep people at home and earning a fair wage for doing so. But we must ensure that minimum wage increases are done with the recognition that many home care programs rely on state funding to pay their workers. And if that funding isn’t increased in tandem with mandatory minimum wage increases, the state could unintentionally be putting vulnerable residents at risk.

Simply put, if Medicaid reimbursement rates for home care services are not increased at all, or at a rate too low to cover new minimum wage standards, then many home care providers will need to consider whether they can afford to keep their doors open. If providers do decide that they cannot remain sustainable and do decide to forgo providing Medicaid-based home care services, then the real loser is the millions of Americans that rely on that provider to live independently at home. Down the line, this could result in more people who can live at home with help from a home health aide into being forced into nursing homes.  

“People want to live at home. And it’s the most cost-effective option for states. Home health aides are the backbone of our industry and we absolutely support wage increases for our workforce, but states need to be thoughtful in their approach to protect the many seniors and individuals with disabilities that rely on home and community-based services. We are working with state legislatures to make sure that they understand the relationship between rates and wages, and the potential risk to vulnerable residents who need home care,” says BAYADA Chief Government Affairs Officer Dave Totaro.

So far this year, 18 states have started the year with higher minimum wages than the year before. If you live in a state where the minimum wage is set to increase, then you have a unique opportunity to advocate and tell your legislators about the importance of home care and of paying home health aides a living wage. Contact advocacy@bayada.com to find out ways you can play a role in ensuring that home care is accessible to the many that want to stay at home, and that home care workers continue to be attracted to a field that helps them do just that.

Across the Country, Parents and Home Care Supporters Advocate for Better Wages for Caregivers

We know the struggles families can face with home care: The call-outs and missed shifts, the lack of sleep, the caregivers who are like family but can’t afford to make their own ends meet, and the frustration that comes when you or your loved one can’t access the care that is deemed medically necessary. We also know the value and impact that sharing our voices has.

Recently, home care advocates have made the news for their efforts across the country. Specifically, on December 28, the Washington Post covered the impact that providers and parents are having in driving public awareness of the struggles that Marylanders and Virginians are having in accessing the skilled nursing home care their families need.

Washington Post reporter Tara Bahrampour points to low reimbursement rates in both states as the major issue contributing to families’ struggles—

“The reason lies in a stark state-by-state discrepancy in the pay in-home nurses receive through Medicaid. Maryland and Virginia have set reimbursement rates significantly lower than surrounding jurisdictions…As a result, licensed practical nurses [LPNs] are finding more lucrative positions out of state or at hospitals or other care institutions that pay more, leaving many homebound Medicaid patients without services.”

Hearts for Home Care has been leading the charge in Maryland, where a coalition of home care clients, parents, providers, and other advocates are pushing for a 25 percent increase for skilled home nursing services. Advocates say that this increase—half of which would have to come from state coffers—would serve to alleviate families’ inability to access care an average of 17 percent of the time, as reported by the state’s Department of Health. Hearts for Home Care advocate and BAYADA Home Health Care director Shannon Gahs says:

“Maryland is failing its citizens who have significant medical disabilities. Failing to provide care 17 percent of the time not only creates a dangerous situation for the person who relies on that care—it harms his or her family. Parents are calling out of work and losing the sleep they need to stay healthy to support their family. They’re doing everything they can to keep their family members safe, but this is not how it is supposed to be. We have to do better.”

In comparison, neighboring Delaware found that shifts are missed 7 percent of the time. There, the state reimburses providers at a rate approximately 30 percent higher for LPN home care services.

In California, Governor Jerry Brown recently proposed a whopping 50 percent wage increase for home care nurses—a move that advocates have pushed for over the past several years. As with families across the country, Californians who require skilled nursing home care have been struggling to get nursing care for their loved ones. Advocates report that under Medi-Cal—the state’s health care system for low income and disabled Californians—rates have not been addressed in 18 years.

While both the Maryland and California proposals are still pending, home care advocates have been successful in driving public and legislative awareness of low reimbursement rates and the impact on families’ access across the country in recent years. Most recently, the home care industry has seen reimbursement rate increases in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and New Jersey among other states. It starts with educating legislators through advocacy via any number of channels: Traditional and social media, letters, phone calls, meetings, and more.

While advocacy can seem like an intimidating activity to many who do not yet engage in it, it’s important that we share our advocacy wins with the home care and health care community at-large. As illustrated in recent news, when we band together to leverage our voices in unison, big changes can happen. It’s important to take that first step and make your message heard on behalf of the millions of Americans that rely on home care.

To learn more about how you can engage in home care advocacy, visit www.heartsforhomecare.com or email advocacy@bayada.com today.

ADVOCATE OPINION: The Impact of Home Health Care in my Life

UPDATE, January 11, 2019: After advocate Dimpal Patel sent her opinion piece to her local paper–the Gaston Gazette–they sent out a reporter who profiled Dimpal and the impact her home care services have had on her in greater detail! Great work advocating Dimpal!

BAYADA Home Health Care client and Hearts for Home Care advocate Dimpal Patel shares her view on home health care in an opinion submitted to her local newspaper.

Home care advocate Dimpal and her BAYADA nurse, Chastity.

I might sound like your typical local 23-year-old: I recently graduated from UNC Charlotte with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. I absolutely loved living independently on campus, and I love to play games and watch movies. But I am very different from most 23-year-olds you know because I rely on a trach and ventilator in order to survive, and it’s because of my home care nurses that I am able to grow and thrive independently.

My two BAYADA Home Health Care nurses—Chastity and Toni—have been with me for nine and six years each. They are like family to me, and they really are lifesavers. Without them, my parents would not be able to work and keep me at home, and I certainly would not have been able to experience college life. Chastity and Toni not only provide me with the skilled services that I need to survive, but they really are like best friends to me. I can’t imagine what my life would be without them—not only would it be without my two friends, but I’d likely be stuck in the hospital, a nursing home, or rely on my mom or dad to quit their job to take care of me.

My worst fear is that lawmakers cut Medicaid funding like they tried to do in Washington last year. If this happened, not only would I likely lose my nurses, but I’d be at risk of having to move into a nursing home. As someone who has experienced living independently and how it has allowed me to earn a degree and contribute to society, I ask that our state and federal legislators be mindful of what funding and service cuts can mean—not only to the state’s financially needy or to the elderly—but to 23-year-olds like me who want to continue living a full life.

-Dimpal Patel, Belmont, NC

Grassroots Advocacy Team Presents at Well Spouse Association’s 30th Annual Conference

Recently, the Government Affairs Office’s (GAO) Grassroots Advocacy team attended the Well Spouse Association’s annual national conference. This year marked its 30th conference, and our Grassroots team got to play a special role at this milestone program. The Association, which serves as a family support organization for “well” spouses who act as primary caretakers for their chronically ill loved ones, holds this yearly weekend-long conference to provide education, tools, resources, and social supports to members.

The Grassroots team attended the conference for the first time to host a break-out session to lead members through an interactive discussion about health care advocacy. Attendees discussed the importance of advocacy and of unifying their voices to help our elected officials better understand the value of home care and health care in their families’ everyday lives.

We were able to connect to so many new and experienced advocates and share our Hearts for Home Care message. One member even used the Hearts for Home Care legislative portal to identify their legislator and their contact information to call and leave a voicemail about the importance of quality in-home care! The importance of advocacy is well-known to many service office employees—it is important that we extend this message to our families and clients as their stories make a huge impact on our decision makers’ ability to understand home care and its effects on families across the country. If you have a client that sounds like a good fit for advocacy, please contact me or direct them to sign up for Hearts for Home Care.

Advocacy Win! Home Care Employee Christine Detweiler’s Advocacy Efforts Lead to New SMA Law

Christine’s advocacy efforts led to the ultimate win: a new law that will benefit families!

Rep. Marguerite Quinn’s home visit with a five-year old client with SMA led her to introduce a bill about newborn screening for the disease!
Rep. Marguerite Quinn’s home visit with a five-year old client with SMA led her to introduce a bill about newborn screening for the disease!

Pennsylvania Hearts for Home Care Ambassador Christine Detweiler has always been a diligent advocate, but recently, her efforts have proven that home care employees can truly go beyond the call of duty for clients and staff by serving as their voices in our state capitals.

“Home care is important to so many Pennsylvanians, and many aren’t as readily able to meet with legislators to share their stories,” said Christine. “I see advocacy as an extension of why I do what I do as a home care employee: We need to make sure we get out there to be a voice for those who don’t have one!”

Christine has been progressively adding more interactions to her advocacy portfolio—Over the past year-and-a-half she focused on meeting legislators in their district offices, and in the past few months she has hosted multiple home visits. Home visits are the most impactful way to demonstrate the importance of home care to legislators because it gives them a chance to see firsthand how clients receive services. To say Christine’s home visit resonated with Pennsylvania state Representative Marguerite Quinn is an understatement.

A few months ago, Christine led the representative on a home visit with five-year old client Gideon M. who suffers from Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). His mother shared their heartwarming story and opened up about their family’s challenges and Gideon’s ever-growing needs. Her story impacted the representative so deeply that shortly after the visit, Rep. Quinn emailed Christine to further assess the family’s needs and determine how she could help them obtain a transportation cart that would make Gideon’s care easier. The outreach didn’t stop there.

Rep. Quinn recently reported to Christine that she has arranged for a builder to come into the family’s home to build custom doors to create a private area for Gideon downstairs. She also reported that she contacted a rotary to find out if the family can be provided with a generator so that they do not need to constantly worry about their home’s power going out. It is truly remarkable how Christine’s efforts have impacted her client and his care.

In addition to her efforts for Gideon’s family, Rep. Quinn introduced a bill that would add SMA screening to the newborn screening list to help diagnose this disease before a child is even born. After introducing this legislation, Rep. Quinn encouraged the state Newborn Screening Advisory Board to support the measure. As a result of her continued efforts, this past month Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine signed the recommendation.

The Hearts for Home Care Team can’t be prouder of the impact that Christine has made! Her passion and tenacity has reached the hearts of many legislators, and she is truly making a name for herself in Harrisburg as a tireless advocate!

A special thanks to Rep. Quinn for her work to get this law on the books on behalf of all of Pennsylvania’s future families. Click here to read the opinion piece that Gideon’s mom, Ruth M., authored, and The Intelligencer published!

To learn more about how your office can host a home visit, or ways you can get involved with advocacy on behalf of all home care staff and clients, email advocacy@bayada.com today.

Pictured: Christine Detweiler (left) poses with fellow home care advocates and state Representative Craig Staats during The Pennsylvania Home Care Association’s Advocacy Day
Pictured: Christine Detweiler (left) poses with fellow home care advocates and state Representative Craig Staats during The Pennsylvania Home Care Association’s Advocacy Day