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 email@example.com.
When BAYADA Home Health Care client Jim Davies received a notice in the mail last year that his insurance would be transitioning to another agency, he tried not to panic. After all, the letter stated there would be no change, he would still receive coverage for his home health care nursing and personal care home health aide services.
However, Jim was not convinced. The 66-year-old, who suffered a spinal cord injury as a result of a diving accident 20 years ago, is nearly paralyzed from the neck down. He relies on his nurses for his complex medical needs, which include wound care, range of motion exercises, mechanical transfers to and from bed, medication administration, catheter care, and care to prevent a serious complication called autonomic dysreflexia, which can lead to seizures, stroke, or even death.
As a former sheriff and local fire commissioner, Jim is used to working collaboratively with others to make things happen. That’s why he immediately called a case manager at the insurance company, who reiterated what was explained in the letter, his home health care coverage would not change.
Fast forward to the end of the year when Jim received another letter, this time from the new insurance company. Despite written and verbal assurance that his coverage would not change, the new company denied his home health care services, insisting Jim was stable enough and no longer needed nursing care.
Jim reached out to his BAYADA Mercer County Adults (MCA) office Director Meghan Hansen and Clinical Manager Sharon Wheelock who appealed the decision on his behalf, to no avail. That’s when they turned to BAYADA Government Affairs Area Director Louise Lindenmeier, who suggested Jim reach out to New Jersey Assemblyman Daniel Benson, a member of the state Health and Senior Services Committee.
Legislative home visit leads to positive change
“When I called Assemblyman Benson’s office, I wasn’t sure what the response was going to be, but I was pleasantly surprised,” says Jim. “The assemblyman made me feel that as his constituent, my problem was a major concern, and he owned it.”
Assemblyman Benson visited Jim and his wife of 40 years Rosemary at their home to witness, first-hand, the critical role home care nurses play in Jim’s health and well-being. During the visit, Assemblyman Benson also learned about the catastrophic medical consequences of stopping Jim’s nursing care and BAYADA’s unsuccessful efforts to appeal the denial from the insurance company.
Following the visit with Jim, Assemblyman Benson jumped into action. He joined BAYADA Managed Care (MCO) Director Pamela Soni, BAYADA Area Director for Pediatrics Managed Care (MCP) Stephanie Perna, and Louise for a meeting with the NJ Department of Banking and Insurance to discuss Jim’s case. In addition, he personally contacted the insurance company to negotiate the contract, resulting in a reversal of the denial. Thanks to his efforts, the issue was resolved within two weeks.
“It is really important to educate politicians on how insurance changes can impact their constituents,” says Jim, who encourages others in similar situations to reach out to legislators who may be more than willing to help. “Assemblyman Benson should be recognized for his prompt and professional response to my needs.”
Assemblyman Benson considered it a privilege to play a role in helping Jim. “It was my honor to work with Mr. Davies to ensure that he received the care he needs and deserves,” he says. “As legislators, it is our sworn duty to represent our constituents, and that means lending our assistance whenever possible, whether by simply cutting through red tape or elevating a situation to a higher level so that it is promptly addressed. I would encourage those in need to reach out to their elected representatives to learn what they can do for them.”
Want to Help Make a Difference: Register for Hearts for Home Care
Whether you can give a minute, an hour, or a day, there are many ways to get involved in advocacy. It can be as simple as sending a pre-written email to your local legislators, hosting a legislator in your home, or attending an event at a legislator’s office or your state capitol.To learn more, consider becoming a “Heart for Home Care” advocate. It only takes five minutes to register at heartsforhomecare.com. You’ll receive email updates about current issues and opportunities to make your voice heart.
Indira is at Jessie’s home every morning at 5:00 without fail. After taking on Jessie’s case and learning that she spent most of her time in bed, it became Indira’s mission to consistently challenge her to get out of bed and get active. Now, every morning before dawn, Jessie starts her morning with a smile, anxiously waiting for Indira to arrive.
While helping Jessie, who is 31 and diagnosed with cerebral palsy, with her activities of daily living, Indira also incorporates games, crafts, dancing, and singing. After a few short months with her beloved caregiver, Jessie now has a newfound confidence in her physical abilities and communication and language skills. Indira has quickly ingrained herself as part of Jessie’s family, whose loved ones call Indira “a Godsend.”
Marie & Michele
CHHA Michele has been with her client Marie since January of 2017, but you would think they have known each other forever. They share a special bond, and Marie even says that Michele is “like a daughter” to her. Marie lives alone, and if not for Michele’s visits, would be lonely and potential in danger. In addition to the personal care services that Michele provides to keep Marie safe and healthy, you see their bond shine when Michele frequently makes puzzles and quizzes to stimulate Marie’s mind—or as they like to call it, “using our noodles.”
Marie says that without Michele, she would not be fully able to take care of herself. But As soon as Marie arrives at Marie’s door, the time flies as Marie keeps her on her toes—both figuratively and literally. In addition to regularly stimulating Marie’s mind, Michele makes sure that Marie is safe and on balance as she moves around her apartment.
We need your help in supporting dedicated caregivers like Indira and Marie through advocacy. To find out ways you can get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org today.
“Parents deserve to be parents, not skilled nurses, and more importantly, children deserve to be children—not patients.” Two moms share how PDN impacts their families’ lives
This year, our major focus in New Jersey is to fight for higher reimbursement rates for New Jersey’s Private Duty Nursing (PDN) program. One of the most impactful ways to influence legislators is to engage clients and families into advocacy through testimony, which is delivered by these clients to legislators who are in key positions to influence legislators. Below, find powerful excerpts from two moms who support a PDN increase on behalf of their children and their families.
Dana I. – Mother to BAYADA Client, Abi
“There is truly no way to explain on how much caring for a medically fragile child impacts a family. Every errand, every event, every move of your day becomes centered around their care. Abi has been authorized for skilled nursing care by our insurance company, yet she still has five or more unfilled shifts every week.
Lapses in nursing coverage put tremendous pressure on our entire family—we often have to miss work and stay home to provide for her care, putting strain on the family finances. Lost nursing hours also means the entire focus of our time becomes all about our medically-fragile child, and the balance between the other children becomes strained and we often miss beloved activities or events.
Abi is not a child that we can just 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. There are simply not enough nurses in home care to cover all of the needs of my family and the needs of many, many others.
Institutionalized care is not the answer. My precious daughter brings many challenges to our home, but it would be heartbreaking to have to put her in an institution for lack of nursing support. So here I am prayerfully putting a name and a face to those of you who have the power to make a real difference in this area. Competitive wages would bring stability to her home care nursing and allow our family and families like us to stay together and thrive.” -Dana Insley, Abi’s mom
Emma K. – Mother to BAYADA client, Lili
“While I count my blessings that we have the right nursing team in place, I often think of the families across the state that can’t fill their nursing shifts. It takes me back to the last time our scheduled nurse had a family emergency and there was no other nurse available to cover her shift. As a single mother of a medically-complex, ambulatory child with no family in the area, you can imagine how it plays out when there isn’t a nurse available for Lili: I have to call out of work myself and cancel any commitments I’ve made for the day. I can’t get the groceries that I was planning to pick up or even do a load of laundry since I can’t leave Lili alone for even a minute. And I have to again plan to do these things during the times I’m expecting to have a nurse to stay with Lili because I can’t get them done otherwise.
We as a society have developed a system of reliability for our communities: Teachers help children learn, police keep our streets safe, ER doctors save lives, and pharmacists fill our prescriptions. But we are failing in keeping home nursing readily available. Just as a prescription, Lili’s care is prescribed by her doctor and authorized by the state. But we cannot rely on its availability. I hope that our state decision makers prioritize home care, if solely for the fact that it keeps children like Liliana at home and keeps families together. Parents deserve to be parents, not skilled nurses, and more importantly, children deserve to be children—not patients.” -Emma K., Liliana’s mom
Dana and Emma exemplify the power of sharing your story. If you’d like to highlight the powerful story of your experience in a home care office, or the story of a client, their loved one, or a caregiver, contact email@example.com.
BAYADA’s Government Affairs Office (GAO) is proud to join with fellow advocates like you to continue to advocate for better wages for our caregivers and increased access to home health care for the tens of thousands of New Jersey residents that rely on this care to stay safe and independent at home. Thank you to our many employees, clients, and families who have advocated on behalf of yourselves, your loved ones, your staff, and your clients regarding our two major 2019 issues:
1. Personal Care Assistant (PCA) Program – Increased Reimbursements for Increased HHA Wages
GAO is working in collaboration with other providers and the New Jersey Home Care and Hospice Association to educate our legislators on the importance of adequate funding for the Personal Care Assistant (PCA) program.This is especially important as the State recently mandated an increased minimum wage. BAYADA supports a wage increase for all of our home health aides (HHAs) for the incredible, lifechanging work they do—but additional advocacy is necessary so state legislators understand the importance of proportional PCA program funding so that providers like BAYADA can comply with the new mandate and stay sustainable.
Click here to check out how HHA Indira helps her client Jessie stay at home, and about CHHA Michele’s special bond with her client Marie. We are hopeful that our advocacy efforts can lead to a fairer wage for aides like Indira and Michele, as well as better recruitment and retention rates across the ACSP practice so that all New Jersey residents who need this important service can access it. To find out how you can get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org today.
GAO is working with the New Jersey Home Care and Hospice Association to educate our legislators on the importance of adequate funding for the Private Duty Nursing (PDN) program. Current PDN program funding makes it difficult for providers like BAYADA to recruit and retain the nurses necessary to care for New Jersey’s most medically complex and residents. This difficulty results in significant access to care issues, as only 85% of scheduled hours are currently filled, and vulnerable New Jersians are going without the care they need to stay safe and healthy at home.
We are lucky to have home care supporters in the legislature who understand the struggles our caregivers and skilled nursing clients face—Recently, Bill S1733/A4575, which proposes a $10 per hour increase for RN and LPN home care services, was introduced. In addition to the increase, this bill also seeks to establish a “rate floor” so that managed Medicaid providers reimburse no less than the state fee-for-service rate for in-home skilled nursing services.
But we need your help in getting this bill to the finish line. Soon, this bill will be up for a hearing, and clients’ and employees’ testimony make the most impact in showing legislators the challenges that arise from inadequate funding and the associated access-to-care issues.
Click here to read excerpts from two clients’ testimonies regarding the importance of PDN in their lives. Powerful stories like the ones Dana and Emma share help our advocacy efforts and show legislators the impact of home care in making a real difference in vulnerable New Jersey residents’ lives. To find out how you can get involved, email email@example.com today.
This year, BAYADA proudly nominated 41 home health aides for the Pennsylvania Homecare Association’s (PHA) annual Direct Care Worker (DCW) of the Year Award. This prestigious award, cosponsored by the Department of Aging, is meant to recognize the state’s hardworking home health aides and reward an aide that has gone above and beyond his or her duties.
On March 27, BAYADA’s nominees joined more than 200 other DCWs from 50 counties across the state in Harrisburg, where nominees and guests enjoyed a variety of activities and informational sessions during the Direct Care Worker Forum. PHA hosted a DCW advocacy station that enabled aides to share their voice with legislators. Guests also enjoyed recipe samples and learned about new activities to try with clients. The highlight of the opening events was a Dementia Live simulation, which gave attendees a walk in the lives of clients suffering from Dementia.
Guests were then invited to sit down for the official Awards program. Each year, PHA recognizes all nominees for the outstanding work they do keeping thousands of older Pennsylvanians and those with disabilities at home and in their communities. After all nominations are received, PHA’s selection committee reviews each nominee and picks one overall winner. As the ceremony began, PHA CEO Vicki Hoak welcomed the attendees with a thank you message from the nominators for all the wonderful work they’ve done over the past year. Lisa Story, Founder and Executive Director from the nonprofit Hope Grows spoke on the importance of caregivers’ self-care. Finally, Acting Secretary of Aging Robert Torres announced the winner of the year, El Hassania El Bedraoui from Jevs Care at Home.
Congratulations to all the direct care workers who were nominated for this year’s award. BAYADA is proud to be involved with a program that demonstrates the state’s commitment to elevating the direct care worker profession and spotlighting the value of serving as a professional caregiver. Thank you to all our home health aides—your compassion and hard work truly exemplify The BAYADA Way.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for information on what you can do to share your voice and support home health aides.
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 email@example.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.
Last week, Hearts for Home Care members and BAYADA employees Dave Totaro, Tara Montague, and Alisa Fox traveled to northern New Jersey to meet two home care clients and their caregivers to learn more about how home care has impacted their lives and how they advocate on behalf of themselves and their loved ones.
Meeting Addy and Gloria
First, the team stopped by a BAYADA service office in Dover, NJ to meet the staff and learn about the struggles the office regularly faces in recruiting and retaining home health aides. Per staff member Helena Anton, challenges lie primarily within staunch competition in the area and finding the high-quality and compassionate caregivers that “you can tell are put on this earth to care for others,” as Helena puts it.
“Smaller home health care companies can usually pay the caregiver more in wages because we put that money into benefits, training, and supplies. But the real problem is that Medicaid reimbursement rates are so low that these caregivers—no matter what company they work for—aren’t making enough. That’s why we need to advocate to make sure the state sees how low wages are impacting so many New Jerseyans that are able to live and their communities and thrive with home care,” added Helena.
After the discussion, the Hearts for Home Care advocates met home care client Addy and her aide Gloria. The crowd was nearly brought to tears by Addy’s story regarding the challenges she has been able to overcome with her “teammate”—which is what she calls Gloria.
“I was extremely touched by Addy’s and Gloria’s relationship. Not only is it clear how much Gloria has impacted Addy’s daily life and her sense of self-worth, but the way that Gloria talks about Addy’s influence on her own life is incredible. You can tell that Gloria was truly put on this earth to be the nurturing, compassionate caregiver that she is,” said Tara Montague.
Recently, Addy and Gloria visited Senator Steve Oroho to share their story and to advocate for better state home care policies. “Helping people is important. And it’s important that those who help others get the help that they need too,” Addy told the group. Addy recommitted to continuing to advocate for herself and for others who are impacted by home health care. “I want to share my message with legislators. It’s my way of giving back,” she said.
Lili and Emma Welcome Advocacy into Their Home
Next, Dave, Tara, and Alisa traveled to Morristown to visit home care client Liliana “Lili” and her mother Emma in their home. As a single mom, Emma relies on home nursing so that she can keep her full-time job and keep Lili at home. She told us that her service office team works hard to ensure that every one of Lili’s shifts are covered. She also shared about times when that coverage wasn’t so steady: “Our routine and our comfort level is only as good as today…When Lili’s main nurse Liz retired, we had a few months where we didn’t know what tomorrow would bring.”
Lili benefits from New Jersey’s private duty nursing (PDN) program, which allows for children and adults with skilled care needs to live at home. Without this program, it is unlikely that Lili would have been able to grow up with her mom and graduate from school as she did. The PDN program’s rates need to be raised in order to better attract more nurses to home care, as most can currently make a higher wage delivering skilled care in a hospital or nursing home. One of Hearts for Home Care’s major advocacy goals for 2019 is to educate legislators on the need for a rate increase and to secure one on behalf of all New Jersey home care clients, families, and nurses.
Like Addy, Emma is committed to ongoing advocacy to ensure that nurses see home care as an attractive employment option, so that other families can receive the home care that they need too. In recent years, Emma has hosted state elected officials in her home. “Seeing our daily routine and how important it is for Lili to have a nurse at home is the most impactful way for an assemblyman or senator to understand home care,” said Emma. “As a mother of someone who is able to stay home due to in-home nursing care, I see it as my duty to advocate…Not just for Lili, but for those in the state who are struggling to get the nursing they need.”
“It’s our clients’ and families’ voices that make the biggest impact on our state and federal elected officials’ decisions about home care. Because of advocates like Addy and Emma, legislators better understand the impact home care has on their communities,” said advocate Dave Totaro, who also serves as BAYADA’s chief government affairs officer.
There are plenty of ways to advocate, even from home! To find out ways that you can make an impact, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Together, we can share our voices to make 2019 the best year for home care yet.
Each year the PA Department of Aging and the Pennsylvania Homecare Association select one home health aide to be named Pennsylvania’s Direct Care Worker of the Year.
Last year BAYADA nominated 14 Home Health Aides (HHAs) and one of our nominees, Anne Pannone, was selected at PA’s Direct Care Worker of the Year. Since her selection, Anne was awarded a cash prize of $1,000 and has been invited to several statewide events to discuss the meaning of being a HHA and the value it provides to the state.
To help ease our service offices’ workloads, GAO is working with EMP to submit this year’s HHA nominations using information provided through our Hero program. To date, over 15 home health aides have been nominated to be this year’s Direct Care Worker of the Year.
All nominees will be invited to the 2018 Direct Care Worker Forum, which includes a luncheon and half-day training program on March 28. A stipend will be given to all HHAs attending the Forum.
Submitted by Lee Dobson, Area Director, NC Government Affairs (GAO) and Shannon McCarson, Regional Director, Dogwood Group (DOG)
We worked together and made it possible. After many years of advocating for higher reimbursement rates within the state Medicaid programs, we finally received an increase in the hourly rate for personal care services (PCS). This achievement was made possible through the persistent advocacy efforts of our employees, clients, families, and government affairs team. Our Hearts for Home Care Advocates participated in email campaigns, home visits, legislative roundtables, home care lobby days in Raleigh, and professional lobbying efforts.
As a result of working together, this week assistive care state programs directors throughout the state were thrilled to pass along an increase to our deserving CNAs and HHAs who care for our Medicaid clients and have stuck with us through thick and thin.
Directors have been personally speaking to staff to share the great news. “One by one, as I spoke to our aides, I heard the same thing – gratitude, appreciation, tears of joy, and, yes relief, too,” said Mimosa (MIM) Division Director Joe Seidel. “The low Medicaid reimbursement rate made it impossible to pay more. I am glad to do it now.” This rate increase is a good place to start, and more needs to be done.
Let’s keep the momentum going by joining to be a Hearts for Home Care Advocate. We believe our aides deserve even more for the important work they do in keeping our clients safe at home. If you are not already part of our advocacy group, join today at heartsforhomecare.com to receive alerts that could influence future efforts to increase pay rates.