Addressing America’s Growing Home Health Aide Crisis

Home Health Aides – a member of the Direct Care Workers category alongside Nursing Assistants (usually known as Certified Nursing Assistants or CNAs), and Personal Care Aides – is one of the lowest paying fields in not only healthcare, but also in the economy. In 2016, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported a median annual wage of $22,600 – which is lower than the median annual wage for all occupations in the economy.

When considering the need for home health aides is projected to grow 38 percent from 2014 to 2024 (a rate much faster than the average for all occupations), and the growing population of elderly — one has to step back and ask the question: Who will take care of Mom and Dad?

According to a United States Census Bureau Report, “An Aging World: 2015”, America’s 65-and-older population is currently 48 million, and it is expected to reach 88 million by 2050. So, if you are now awakening to the awareness that one day – in the not too distant future – you shall be classified as “aging”, the question comes even closer to home. Who will take care of me?

How can we attract, retain, and train quality workers to address this growing American crisis? Home health care is an emotionally and physically demanding job. It is a low income ($10.87/hr. is the reported average), high stress (lifting people in and out of bed, helping them to toilet, shower, eat, stay active, and often dealing with challenging behaviors), and sometimes, thankless job. It is not surprising that the average turnover/ burn out rate is 40-60%.

For those who remain committed to the occupation, many still need government subsidies such as low-income housing, food stamps, and Medicaid. About a third receive food stamps, and 28 percent rely on Medicaid for health insurance. In short, there are not a lot of perks provided to the caregivers tending to our loved ones.

What do we hear from agencies that struggle to meet supply and demand? One issue is that they have difficulty getting people through 90-day training programs without taking a loss. The cost to put workers through training is often not returned before the worker leaves.

How can apprenticeship programs help? Apprenticeships offer the agency – and the worker – a structured screening, training, and mentoring program. They can also work to establish upward training so that, even if an individual enters the occupation at the entry level, there is opportunity for advancement through ongoing career planning, and education. That not only makes the career more attractive, but it also creates a waterfall effect to help deal with other direct care worker shortages, such as RNs, social workers, and LPNs.

If you have had to go through the headaches of finding a home health aide for a parent, this common sense approach may seem too simple to be true—especially given the dire state of worker shortages.

But, who do you want to take care of Mom and Dad during their last golden days? Someone who feels happy, hopeful, and rewarded with their own career potential, or someone who has to struggle to maintain their own quality of life?

If you have had the opportunity to watch apprenticeship programs unfold, you would agree that age-old, common sense approaches to skilled labor development is one solution. And this is one solution that just may contribute to creating a better future for us all.