Worker shortage creating home health care crisis

State has increased wages 25 cents over 14 years
Worker shortage creating home health care crisis

A shortage of home health care workers in Wisconsin is happening at a time when demand for the service is expected to increase with an aging population.

“They can’t find enough people to get help with the basic function of life and that situation is only getting worse,” said Beth Swedeen, executive director of the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities.

The shortage of home health care workers is being blamed on wages that have driven some providers out of the industry.

“In Wisconsin, direct care providers have gotten only a 25 cent per hour raise in the last 14 years, so basically people are going into the field and not getting any kind of reward for doing good work, nor are they even making enough money to keep up with the cost of inflation,” Swedeen said.

Reimbursement rates for home health care providers are set by the state of Wisconsin.

“We believe that policy makers need to be addressing this front and center because it is not only a human cost in that people are unsafe, but there is also an economic cost in that people are becoming sicker. They are not having their needs taken care of and things that are small are becoming issues that require hospitalization,” Swedeen said.

A survey conducted by the Survival Coalition of Wisconsin Disability Organizations shows that 95 percent of individuals needing home health care have a hard time finding workers. The survey also showed that 1 in 5 people are thinking about moving out of their home and into a nursing facility because of the workforce crisis.

“It is a scary thing to think about. What if you were in need of help like I’m in need of help?” said Karen Foxgrover, a muscular dystrophy patient who relies on home health care.

“It is absolutely critical. It is the most essential thing I have. My whole world depends on in-home health care,” Foxgrover said.

The Survival Coalition of Wisconsin Disability Organizations is lobbying the state Legislature to increase the reimbursement rate for home health care workers.

“We have an issue now that I would call a crisis, but that crisis is only going to become more acute in the next five to ten years,” Swedeen said.