As the United States seems to be pulling out of the Covid-19 crisis just in time for summer travel and other activities, there is another crisis that is underway, and it’s indirectly related to the covid pandemic. While this article is about the current situation in Boise, Idaho, there is no reason to believe that it is any different in every other part of the country.
There is a Severe Shortage of Home Health Care Workers
Let’s step back a bit to understand the home health care industry and how this shortage came about.
At its basics, the home health care industry is there to provide in-home services to patients (the industry calls them clients). That sounds reasonable enough. There are generally three segments of service that are available, each one requiring a different level of care (aka, service needs) which then requires a different level of capabilities and possibly education from the care giver.
Home Care is the most basic level of service, and it can include a variety of activities such as washing dishes, house cleaning, folding the laundry, grocery shopping, running errands, walking the dog, making and serving meals. It can even include someone just sitting with the client and watching television with them. This level of service might be even more helpful to a spouse who now will have some free time for respite and doing something besides making sure the other spouse is safe. As might be expected, this is not a high-paying job, nor does it require a specific level of education. Knowledge of CPR and Basic First Aid are probably required, but this is not a skilled position.
Home Health is the next level of care, and it is sometimes referred to as “Skilled Nursing” activities. The provider here is someone who is typically qualified to work with patients in a hospital or a retirement home, assisted living facility, etc. At the most basic level, this person is at least a CAN, a Certified Nursing Assistant. Per the website registerednursing.org, “Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) are healthcare professionals who provide intimate, hands-on healthcare to patients in medical settings under the supervision of a Registered Nurse (RN), or Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). CNAs assist patients with bathing, dressing and any other basic activities involved in daily life.”
Home Hospice Care is the most advanced care of service provided to health care patients. Hospice care is typically brought in when a patient is nearing end of life, and specialized care is needed to keep the patient comfortable. The website WebMD makes it clear that palliative care is not the same as hospice. However, palliative care can be administered to a patient who is in receiving hospice care, as was the case when my 94-year old Mom was near the end of her life. Her cancer had spread so far there was no reasonable chance that chemotherapy or other aggressive actions were going to save her. She was kept comfortable while the specialized hospice staff tended to her medical needs.
What Caused the Home Health Care Worker Shortage?
When the Covid-19 pandemic was in full swing in 2020, we were seeing that nursing homes and other elderly communities were being hit very hard with the virus. Quite understandably, many people opted to keep “parents” at home rather than putting them in the facilities where they would have otherwise gone. But now they needed care for the parents.
Home Health Care was now the solution for the aging parents, thus pulling on the supply of home health care workers. The industry had never been a fully-staffed industry, but now it was getting even harder hit as the demand greatly increased without a corresponding uptick in supply.
Add into that mix the fact that some home health care workers opted to leave the industry because of their own health concerns. That’s to be expected; why would someone want to willingly go into a situation where you could potentially catch the deadly virus?
I’m sure that Boise isn’t the only area where the wages for a home health care worker are not very high. I recently called one service, and was told that their pay for a home care worker was in the $12.50 - $13.00 per hour range. That’s not a terrific wage.
Is there a Solution in Sight?
It would be great to end this article on a positive note. Unfortunately, with the research I have done, I don’t see the situation getting better in Boise, and inextricably, to the rest of the country where home health care providers are in short supply.