Direct care worker shortage squeezes Area Agencies on Aging

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Elderly Services Program also impacted by worker shortage

The Ohio Association of Area Agencies on Aging (o4a) has been working with state agencies to address the growing problem of a shortage of direct care workers. The shortage is already causing delays in services to frail seniors and is expected to grow worse with the aging of the population.

One strategy is a rate hike for PASSPORT providers planned for January 2017. PASSPORT is Ohio’s in-home care program for Medicaid (low income) beneficiaries.

In Southwestern Ohio, the Elderly Services Program (ESP) has also been affected by the worker shortage, especially in more rural parts of the region. ESP is funded by county-tax levies and is for seniors who are not eligible for Medicaid. COA manages the Elderly Services Program via contracts with county commissioners in Butler, Clinton, Hamilton and Warren counties.

The greatest challenge facing the program is growth of the older population in the face of limited resources, said Ken Wilson, Vice President of Program Operations for Council on Aging (COA). “That includes workforce shortages which are happening in parts of our region as well as around the country. Direct care workers are providing personalized care in people’s homes but they are not paid enough for the critical work they’re doing. The situation worsens in an improving economy where people have more employment options.”

To address the problem, COA is considering making changes in ESP service requirements to remove any that increase costs to home care agencies without adding much value, Wilson said. Helping home care agencies cut costs would enable some to pass savings on to workers in the form of higher wages, which would help with employee recruitment and retention. Wilson said COA is also planning to competitively bid home care services during 2017, which would include setting new hourly rates for home care services. Provider agencies contract with COA to deliver in-home care services to seniors enrolled the Elderly Services Program.

According to a recent New York Times article, home care aides earn a national median salary of $10.11 an hour, which is actually less than their median salary more than a decade ago.

Click here for an article in the o4a newsletter which has more information on the PASSPORT rate hike as well as results of a survey of Ohio’s Area Agencies on Aging concerning their struggles with the direct care worker shortage.