A home care crisis as a result of a worker shortage? A recent Washington Post article that featured Harpswell as the oldest town in the oldest state in the US essentially says that Maine is on the leading edge of what will become a catastrophic issue for those of us aging in the next couple decades. But the Maine worker shortage in health care is nothing new. We’re been begging for workers to take the low-paying, emotionally-draining, physically hard jobs in health care for 20 years.

The WaPo article wasn’t really news. If you’ve spent any time in senior care in Maine, you know the average turnover for CNAs (for example) at any home or healthcare provider, community or hospital is at least the national average of about 30% and has been for years. That means there is a lot of effort spent  organizing coverage, recruiting and training to keep enough people to get the work done, hopefully avoiding a home care crisis.

This week, Home Healthcare News (published out of Yarmouth) included a reaction article declaring the healthcare worker shortage a myth. It’s an article that you can’t really check, since the person interviewed is anonymous so that he/she can be “frank and honest” without fear of repercussion. (They’re a national publication, so there’s a good chance the healthcare exec interviewed isn’t from Maine.)

The Home Healthcare interview contends that making the healthcare workplace exceptional will insure that workers aren’t poached by other businesses offering better wages, working conditions, hours and benefits. Seems like common sense.

The problem is a low unemployment rate in Maine right now, so that even those “better places to work” are looking for help. There just aren’t enough entry-level workers to go around. Maine Public recently posted an interview with Jess Maurer of the Maine Council on Aging that talks about this issue.

So in the short term, we need more workers. In the longer term, we need to make healthcare a more attractive job. And in the immediate term, we need to staff healthy!

Home Care Crisis Now!

But that’s not much help to people requiring care now. People call me from Kittery to Calais, looking for assistance for their mom or dad. I send them to various home care agencies, but the fact of the matter is if you’re:

  • outside a major metropolitan area in Maine
  • lower income
  • looking for transportation

you’ll have a tough time finding the home care help you need.

One idea comes to mind: banding together with a few friends to hire a shared worker or two. You’ll have to cooperate as far as who gets help at what time of day, and you will need to cover various costs (like payroll taxes) for the workers.  Someone will have to be in charge of scheduling and billing. But you’ll have a dedicated worker that you can get to know, and the worker will have guaranteed hours and (hopefully) decreased commuting between households. You could maybe cover the same ground by getting your group together and approaching a homecare agency about providing a single worker for your care group. You can short-circuit a home care crisis for yourself and friends.

home care crisisFor those of us approaching retirement, this is a wake-up call and one more reason to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Realistically, the less you need care 20 years from now, the easier your life will be. Duh…..but a lot of people have been assumptive that a couple hours of home care a day will help them stay safely and independently at home. Could be so, but it won’t work if you can’t find the care. You’ll be better off if you don’t need it.