Home care workers must be better paid, better trained and more flexible in their skills as they emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. That was the message Thursday during a webinar about strengthening the direct care workforce. The nonpartisan research group Mathematica hosted the presentation.

Policy makers and experts on aging said the pandemic is providing an unprecedented opportunity for states and service providers to strengthen the care economy, which needs an additional 4 million workers by the end of the decade.

Bea Rector

“I think for the first time there was this awakening and ability to really educate public health about the work of home care workers,” Bea Rector, Washington State director of Social and Health Services, said.

The State of Washington has been paying home care workers an additional $2.50 an hour in hazard pay over the past year. Rector said workers have been relying on the boost in wages and shouldn’t lose them.

“It’s on us to figure out how we continue to really leverage that to what we really want to see, which is a livable wage,” Rector said.

The home care industry faced challenges even before the pandemic. High turnover, insufficient training and inadequate career paths are among the problems that make it difficult to attract care workers.

Recruitment, training opportunities

In recent months, some large firms have been upping the ante in recruitment, offering more lucrative signing bonuses. 

Lafayette, LA-based LHC Group recently invested $20 million in the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s School of Nursing to provide degrees to employees at a reduced cost.

Robyn Stone, senior vice president of research for LeadingAge, which represents aging service agencies, wants to see the development of certification programs that are recognized in all states and allow workers to provide care in multiple settings, including homes and senior care facilities.

Robyn Stone, DrPH
Robyn Stone, DrPH

“I think we have some opportunities to think about how we deploy this workforce in a more universal way,” Stone said.

Remote services

President Joseph Biden’s plan to funnel $400 billion into the care economy could also pave the way for new employment opportunities as the administration for ways to extend more care into homes and communities.

One way to do that could be through a virtual workforce of caregivers. Rector said the pandemic has made telehealth and televisits widely acceptable to homebound patients. She thinks the home care industry could attract new workers by developing remote opportunities.

“There’s a whole group of workers who would not enter this workforce to do one-on-one, person-to-person care, but potentially would access this work through remote check-ins, medication reminders, or maybe do laundry or shopping for clients,” Rector said.