Direct Care Crisis

Across the country, communities are experiencing shortages of home health aides and direct care service professionals. This shortage is threatening the long-term care for people with disabilities and aging seniors.

Here in Ohio, Easterseals is witnessing this crisis firsthand. As the population of individuals over the age of 60 increases, the number of staff to care for those individuals is decreasing rapidly. Likewise, we have worked to ensure more and more individuals are living in their own homes rather than long term care facilities. The crisis is driven by a variety of issues; low wages being a large contributor. And the unfortunate heroin epidemic in our communities has only exacerbated the situation. Also, the number of staff willing to assist with physically and emotionally demanding work is decreasing. Direct care staff are responsible in helping people shower, going to the bathroom, eating, getting in and out of bed, and participating in activities and we are seeing that people simply do not desire this type of work.

It’s estimated that by 2050, America’s senior population will increase to 88 million people from the current 48 million. If we don’t turn this around now, things will only get worse. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates an additional 1.1 million workers of this kind will be needed by 2024 — a 26 percent increase over 2014. Yet, the population of potential workers who tend to fill these jobs, overwhelmingly women ages 25 to 64, will increase at a much slower rate.

Wages for direct care workers have become stagnant which makes recruitment very difficult. The average hourly rate nationally is $10.11. A handful of states are currently trying to increase this wage to at least $15 an hour. Let’s face reality – the average  direct care service worker is paid at a rate that keeps them living in poverty.

Another barrier to recruitment is the job requirements. It is required that direct care staff have a GED or high school diploma. This disqualifies several potential employees. If we re-evaluate the job requirements, we would be able to fill open positions and provide meaningful work to these individuals.

As the CEO of Easterseals and guardian of an individual with a disability, I am very concerned about the future care of the families we serve. How can we ensure that these individuals have the care they need as they age? We need to do something now so that individuals living with disabilities can live a full a life and receive the care they need and deserve. So what is the answer?