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.
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.