Value of direct care workers growing

Patricia Hafermann Benefit Specialist

Direct care workers are vitally important to helping seniors, people with disabilities, or those who are injured or sick with activities of daily living. Their job duties include assistance with eating, grooming, medications, and possible transportation and light housework. Some direct care workers work for companies, some on their own, and others are simply family members. Their importance cannot be understated. Often direct care workers are the lifeline that keeps people in their homes and out of institutions like nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

There is no dispute that long-term care issues loom large in the United States. As the Baby Boomer generation ages, the need for quality home health care will increase too. Policymakers are starting to listen and respond to this looming crisis, recognizing that caring for America’s seniors will affect not only the seniors themselves, but also their younger family members. Having a quality and adequately paid di- rect care industry is one way advocates say will help ensure that America’s seniors receive quality care.

In 2013 there were 4.1 million direct care workers in the United States split evenly between personal care aides, home health aides, independent providers, and nursing assistants. According to the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI), this job area will grow by 48 percent by 2020. Advocates caution that this fast job growth could lead to diminished services or under-qualified workers and therefore are pushing policymakers to act now to ensure the next generation of direct care workers is well trained and compensated appropriately for the important work they provide.

Compensation is a major policy point for advocates. PHI reports that personal care aides make on average $9.67 per hour compared with a $16.87 hour- ly average for all occupations in 2013. Further, PHI states that 28 percent of direct care workers do not have health insurance compared to 20 percent of the general population. In addition, in 2011 approximately 49 percent of direct care workers relied on some type of means-tested public assistance.

To get lawmakers to recognize the need for highly qualified and well-compensated direct care workers, PHI has initiated a new program called “Come Care with Me,” which teams policymakers and lawmakers with actual direct care workers to work alongside them for a day. Both state and federal lawmakers have participated in this program. U.S. Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., a “Come Care with Me” participant, states on PHI’s brochure for the program, “I think one of the real solutions is to change how we think about these workers. Their status has to be elevated. Their importance has to be enhanced. It is a profession and it should be treated as a profession. Spending a day with a direct care worker helps to do that.”

By shedding light on the hard and often-underappreciated efforts of direct care workers, PHI hopes to encourage lawmakers and the general public to increase their respect and awareness for these workers which will, they hope, result in a better quality and higher-compensated profession.

For more information about PHI’s “Come Care with Me” program, please visit their website at:

If you have any additional questions, you may call Pat Hafermann, elderly benefits specialist with the Aging and Disability Resource Center, at (920) 467-4076.

Sources: Published with permission from the Legal Services Team at the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources’ Elder Law & Advocacy Center.

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