Imagine entrusting the care of your elderly loved one to a worker at your local fast food joint. While that may be hard to fathom, the reality is that home care caregivers often make less per hour than the average McDonald’s cashier.
Consider the state of New York, for example, where fast food restaurants are now required to pay employees at least $15 per hour, while minimum wage for workers in all other sectors saw a minimal increase to just $13.20. What’s more, New York’s minimum wage is actually among the higher ones in the country. About half the states have minimum wages under $10, with several requiring the bare minimum federal standard of $7.25 per hour.
The driving factor in home care turnover
Low pay is one of the primary factors that keeps people from taking home healthcare and nursing aide jobs. According to research from PHI, these workers “persistently struggle with poverty.” Median earnings hover around $20,000 a year, resulting in nearly half who rely on public assistance and one-third who are unable to find affordable housing.
New York lawmakers are seeking to address this issue. A bill — the Fair Pay for Home Care Act — currently making its way through the state Legislature, would increase the pay of home care workers to 150% of minimum wage in their area. And in April, the state’s budget included a $3 per hour increase in wages for home health aides and a $1.2 billion in bonuses for those on the healthcare frontlines.
Stressful, demanding work is another reason why home healthcare, nursing home and assisted living jobs are hard to fill. Work weeks that exceed the typical 40 hours are commonplace for about 56% of professional caregivers. The combination of low wages, long days, physically demanding work and the challenges of working with elderly, sick or injured clients has left more than half of workers feeling burned out. And those who feel burned out are 2.6 times more likely to seek new jobs, contributing to turnover rates that annually exceed 65% in the home care industry alone.
Stemming the turnover and retaining talent
While the situation may seem dire right now, there are actionable steps that can be taken to minimize the impact of these workforce challenges.
First, we need to elevate the importance of the caregiver profession, further empowering them to be deemed a critical part of the care team. While many positions are advertised as “unskilled labor,” these individuals are on the frontlines. They work closely with clients in their homes and have a first-hand look at many of the factors impacting a client’s health — from their home environment and diet to adherence to medication regimens.
These caregivers can also offer doctors and nurses insights into changes in condition, social determinants of health (SDOH) and clinical needs that may not be detected during office visits. By being a valued part of the team and seeing the difference they can make in clients’ lives, caregivers will ultimately feel less isolated in their work and take greater pride in their contributions. As a result, caregivers could have higher job satisfaction and less likelihood of burnout.
Second, we need to effectively prepare caregivers for their jobs, then continue the training and rewarding good work. Onboarding is an important piece of the workforce puzzle, considering that the average caregiver costs about $2,600 to replace. All new employees need a proper foundation so they can be successful in their jobs and fulfilled in helping the organization meet its mission.
The key here is to start at day one. Kick off a new caregiver’s first week on the job with an instructive orientation. Train them on standard skills, such as elderly safety, working with chronic illnesses, and transporting clients. Consider a focus on self-care tips, as well. This will give employees insights into the signs of burnout and the tools to address it before it becomes a problem. Incentive programs and points systems are another great way to empower caregivers and keep them fulfilled in their careers, enabling them to be rewarded for on-time visits and accurately observing and tracking members’ conditions. Points can then be tallied up to exchange for gift cards or spa days for a job well-done.
Finally, technology plays a major role in making a caregiver’s job easier. Technological innovations can go a long way in improving efficiency, simplifying processes and allowing caregivers to spend more time with, and provide better care to, clients, rather than focusing on a mountain of administrative work that can contribute to burnout. For example, home care providers can replace manual billing and payroll processes with a platform connecting payers and providers in real time to streamline and accelerate the process of scheduling the right caregivers for clients. And there is next-generation electronic visit verification software that can be used to document details about visits, including plan-of-care tasks and duties, or scheduling and authorization for services performed.
Mobile apps are even more empowering, giving caregivers everything they need, exactly when they need it, in the palm of the hands. Mobile apps can cover clocking in and out, maintaining a shift schedule, communicating with employers, and serve as a platform for completing in-service training.
Caregivers are the biggest asset to the home care industry, and it’s become all too apparent how the shortage in this workforce is impacting on our ability to care for a growing member population. Elevating the role that these individuals play in their clients’ health, providing the training necessary to set new employees up for success, offering incentives for good work, and deploying technology to ease administrative burdens are important steps you can take to address the impact of turnover and continue providing the quality care your clients deserve.
Stephen Vaccaro serves as president at HHAeXchange, where he leads the market strategy and national expansion of HHAeXchange’s state, payer, provider and fiscal intermediary portfolios.