Demand for home care is rising in New York, due to the large, rapidly aging Baby Boomer population and a cultural shift toward growing old in place rather than in group facilities. But recruiting home health aides to do the job has become increasingly difficult.
Home care staffing agencies and disabled New Yorkers who receive state assistance to hire their own aides report that they’re seeing higher turnover than in the past, and it’s taking longer to fill empty positions. A 2018-2019 survey of home care agencies statewide across the state found that about one in six positions were left unfilled due to staffing shortages, on average. The problem has gotten worse during the pandemic, according to a report issued by the Home Care Association of New York State in February.
For people who rely on home health aides for daily tasks such as bathing and eating, that’s a major problem.
“We’ve had situations where workers don’t show up, and people have to stay in their bed and not get out of bed because they need help,” Heidi Siegfried, director of health policy at Center for Independence of the Disabled New York, said in an interview with Gothamist. “The people that use home care are really dependent on the worker to live their lives independently.”
A coalition of state lawmakers and advocates for home care employers and clients is bringing the issue to the fore during this year’s legislative session, pushing a bill that would raise the minimum wage for home care workers to 150% of the existing minimum wage in each region of the state. In New York City, that would mean a starting pay of $22.50 per hour – a significant increase over the $15 many home care workers currently earn. Raising home care wages statewide would cost an estimated $4 billion per year.
The bill, called the Fair Pay for Home Care Act, now has enough sponsors to pass in the state Assembly and the Senate. But Gov. Kathy Hochul hasn’t lent her support.
She did not include funding for the measure in her executive budget, released in mid-January, even though addressing the health care workforce shortage was a focal point of her State of the State speech earlier that month. The only funding she included for home care workers was a one-time bonus of up to $3,000 — but it would only be paid to employees who stay on the job for at least a year. Hochul budgeted $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2023 for the bonuses, which would also be available to other types of frontline health care workers.
A wage increase, in contrast, would guarantee longer term financial security for home care workers. Lawmakers grilled state health officials on the issue at a hearing on the health care budget in Albany on Tuesday.