Those of us who have utilized home health care for our loved ones are well aware of the staffing challenges in the industry. The pandemic intensified the problem and has moved the issue into the national spotlight. Will we find solutions as the demand for home health care is likely to increase in the coming years?
My father’s journey with Alzheimer’s ended a decade ago. Like the woman interviewed by the New York Times for a recent article on the shortage of home care options, my mother cared for my father at home for as long as she could. Her preference would have been to care for him at home, with adequate outside support. There were sporadic home health care visits to address physical health issues, but the bulk of the care fell on my mother. My father ended up being hospitalized for a medical condition which required surgery and was not physically well enough at the time to be released home. He was placed in a memory care center an hour-and-a-half drive away from my parents’ home. It was the closest facility with an opening. The distance put a huge strain on my mother, who didn’t have personal transportation and had to take a bus to visit my father.
My mother used home health care while she was recovering from cancer, but in her rural community, staffing shortages and high turnover meant limited visits and the bulk of daily care falling on my shoulders. I had to quit my job in order to provide that care, and while I’m grateful I was able to be there for my mother, it created a significant financial burden that I’m still trying to pay off several years after her death.
Most people’s preference is to age in place at home, but people are in for a rude awakening if we don’t adequately address the problems within the industry. While staffing has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels for the most part, demand continues to grow. According to the New York Times, “More than 800,000 older and disabled people who qualify for Medicaid are on state waiting lists for home care.”
That’s a lot of people, and the ripple effect that it causes for family members who have to drastically alter their lives to fill in the care gaps cannot be ignored. There is a lot of talk about “elevating the profession” and that is long overdue. Better pay, better benefits, a career path that offers further training or certifications would help attract and maintain staff. Adjusting our immigration policy to welcome those who want to work in the care industry is another option being discussed. At some point soon, we must move beyond just mere talk and take action.
In the meantime, families are left scrambling and our loved ones in need of care suffer.