Pennsylvania ranks seventh in the nation for the percent of its population that is 65 years of age or older1. As Baby Boomers continue to age and the population of older adults needing long-term care increases, the need for caregivers will continue to increase as well. Since COVID shined a light on major drawbacks of congregate living facilities like nursing homes and institutions, it is not just the elderly population that are choosing to be cared for at home. This is great news for the hundreds of thousands of individuals and families who prefer to age at home rather than in a facility. However, it also poses a major problem: there aren’t enough caregivers to take care of the current Pennsylvania population at home let alone the 29% growth that will occur by 2028, leaving a shortage of 73,000 home health aides2. This is due in large part to low state funding for Medicaid programs like Pennsylvania’s Personal Assistance Services (PAS) that cares for medically fragile individuals.
This is where our advocates come in. Home care recipients across the Commonwealth have banded together to help alleviate this growing caregiver shortage. Advocates like Stephen Hoppy from Luzerne County, PA are speaking out and helping raise awareness of the inadequate state funding. Stephen is approved for 20 hours per day of care from the PAS program, but since he cannot find enough caregivers to cover all those hours, he has been paying $500 per week out of his own pocket to help secure that coverage. Recently, Stephen was interviewed by FOX56 News about how the caregiver shortage has affected him.
“I am advocating because our healthcare system is compromised. There are plenty of people worse off than me that can’t get home care, which is unacceptable. These home health aides are medical professionals, and they need to be paid for their expertise and knowledge,” says Stephen.
COVID has only exacerbated this issue, with a mass exodus of health care workers no longer willing to risk their lives for a career that yields an average of only $12.40/hour. BAYADA Home Health Care has had to deny 40% of PAS cases in 2020 and 2021 because there were not enough caregivers to staff the cases. Teri Henning, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Homecare Association (PHA), says she’s hearing similar numbers from PAS providers across the board. “They simply cannot compete for the workforce,” she says. “Home health aides can earn more money doing similar work in other state home care programs, or in nursing homes, or even doing less physically- and emotionally-demanding work at Amazon, Target, or in fast food.”
Home care advocate and mother, Maria, from Pittsburgh has also joined Hearts for Home Care’s advocacy efforts after experiencing these issues firsthand with her 22-year-old son, Matthew, who is developmentally disabled and requires non-stop supervision. Since COVID, their lives have dramatically changed—his schooling, his ability to receive psychological and medical care and—very significantly—his family’s ability to access the home health aide (HHA) care that Matthew needs and is qualified to receive. Maria and Matthew were featured on Pittsburgh’s local KDKA 2CBS station advocating on behalf of home health aides.
“Aides are leaving the caregiving field to work at big retail like Walmart and Amazon—or in fast food,” says Maria. “They can make $15 an hour or more there. When we see a revolving door of aides, Matthew can’t get the one-on-one care he needs, which puts him at risk.”
Home care advocates like Stephen and Maria give life to our advocacy efforts ─ their real-life experiences aren’t just numbers and statistics, but genuine struggles that thousands of Pennsylvanians endure every single day. They help tell the story so that legislators and influencers can fully grasp how their decisions are affecting their constituents and communities.
At the end of the day, when aides are not being drawn into working in home care, it’s Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable residents like Matthew and Stephen who suffer. PHA, home care providers, and advocates are asking the State to increase funding for the PAS program. Additional funding would put home care agencies in a better position to recruit and retain more HHAs, and thus ensure that PAS beneficiaries can continue to access the care they need to stay safe and healthy at home.
- https://www.leadingagepa.org/Portals/0/154869%20Long%20Term%20Care%20Statistics%20Book%20revised%20final.pdf page 14.
- https://mercer.healthcare-workforce.us/ +math