I don’t know about you, but every once in a while I stumble across information that really gives me pause for concern. Recently I read a few pieces on personal caregivers that put a fright into me.
With an aging population already in place and the first wave of Baby Boomers starting to turn 65, Personal Care Aides and Home Health Aides are on top of the list of the projected fastest-growing occupations in the country between 2010-2020. In 2011, the direct-care workforce totaled about 4 million workers and by 2020, that group is expected to be roughly 5 million strong, or the single largest occupational group in the US. These direct-care workers, according to PHI (one of the sources of my reading), “provide an estimated 70 to 80 percent of the paid hands-on long-term care and personal assistance received by Americans who are elderly or living with disabilities or chronic conditions.”
For many elderly Americans or those chronically disabled, these workers are a lifeline – and not only for the patients but for their families and friends as well. They help clients bathe, dress, and negotiate their activities of daily living.
At MPTF we prize these workers and recognize the significant value they bring to our world the world of our residents and their families. For me personally, one of the most hurtful parts of our LTC struggles a few years ago was the unfair criticism levied directly at MPTF’s caregiving practices and indirectly I felt, at those who were providing the care. I can’t imagine more dedicated and committed members of the MPTF team – then and today – and celebrate their contribution to the MPTF mission.
We are right to be concerned, however, how some of these direct caregivers are being treated, especially Personal Care Aides and Home Health Aides who are providing this kind of care at home. Anecdotally, I have heard from friends in this field that the wage rates and working conditions are sub-standard, and the data I’ve seen bears this out. According to the statistics in the PHI study previously cited, many of these workers live in households that receive public benefit such as food stamps, Medicaid, or housing, child care, or energy assistance. In other words, they are barely hanging on themselves!
When we think about where we’re headed in the area of caregiving in the future, particularly the growing need for home health aides of various kinds, this kind of data has to make you nervous. I have to tell you, it does me. Amongst the many other issues we are grappling with on a daily basis, we need to ask whether we are treating those individuals in whose trust we are putting our society’s most vulnerable without the economic dignity they deserve. Doesn’t that worry you?