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NY must raise pay for home care workers (Guest Opinion by Joseph Pecora)

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Written by Publishing Team

Joseph Pecora, of New Rochelle, is vice president of Home Healthcare Workers of America (HHWA), which represents more than 32,000 members across New York State.

Every day, around 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 and have a longer life expectancy than ever before.

As the pandemic has convinced more seniors to explore home care options – a recent AARP study found that 77% of adults aged 50 and over want to stay in their homes long-term – New York families are at a crossroads, finding limited support for options for aging well at home.

The problem will only get worse as the aging of the population is about to explode, with the number of adults over 65 doubling and the number of adults over 85 tripling, by 2050.

New Yorkers need real action from political leaders to prepare for this aging boom, given that 23% of home care positions in the state went unfilled in 2021.

Governor Kathy Hochul announced her intention during her state-of-the-art inaugural address to grow and expand New York’s healthcare workforce by 20% over five years through incentives. While the governor’s commitment to healthcare workers is to be commended, the devil will be in the details. Currently, home health professionals earn less per hour than many fast food workers.

New York already has a deficit of 100,000 skilled home care workers, and significant over-regulation by the state deserves a lot of the credit. With Skilled Home Care being projected as one of the 10 fastest growing professions in the United States, now is the time to address it.

Earlier in 2021, the state legislature set a minimum wage for fast food workers at $ 15 an hour, regardless of the New York area. At any Amazon site, the minimum wage is $ 18 an hour. A school bus driver in Saratoga earns $ 22.41 / hour.

During this grand resignation, the outlook for home health care is grim, with a salary cap – not a minimum – set by New York Medicaid regulators at just $ 15 / hour for New York City, among the regions. the most expensive in the state. If home helpers try to negotiate a higher salary, they lose the money allocated to their health and benefits program. The salary is even lower in other parts of New York.

Over the past year, 20% of the workforce has decided they can no longer afford the job at just $ 15 an hour, for such a physically and emotionally taxing career. Why would those on whom our society depends to care for our beloved grandparents, or dear old mum and dad, be so neglected by the policies of Albany and Washington, DC?

Perhaps the fact that 95% of the home health professionals we advocate are women of color.

In New York, nursing home workers can be paid around the clock, but in home care the worker is capped at 1 p.m. even if they are working a night shift to look after a patient. These regressive regulations, coupled with low wages, are not the only problem.

Albany’s policymakers have struggled to consolidate. Where we once had hundreds of home care agencies, Albany has a plan to limit the number of agencies in the state to less than 100.

Nursing homes, which cost an average of $ 12,927 per month in New York City, aren’t for everyone. In comparison, the annual cost of home care services is $ 21,000 per year, or just 15% of the cost of living in a nursing home, a great economic deal for the state’s aging population.

Yet it appears that there is a bureaucratic agenda promoting more expensive institutionalized elderly care options. New York must immediately address uncompetitive wages set by its regulators for home helpers and realign outdated policies that hamper stay-at-home options.

Home health professionals are rightly proud of their role with the most vulnerable in society. Often, they are the only ones knocking on the door to provide care and support to the elderly confined to their homes.

The solution is clear. Governor and legislature must act without delay to lift subjective and arbitrary Medicaid caps that cut home care wages, so elderly citizens have an option beyond a lonely bed in an expensive nursing home .

Stop attacking home health professionals and the agencies that employ them with onerous regulations. Instead, let’s nurture a home health care industry and career path that incentivizes and creates real and respectable wages.

Related: Health care, climate change at the heart of Hochul’s 2022 plan

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