Liza Berger

New York has been in the home care spotlight of late — and for good reason. The state, one of the most populous in the country, has been the proverbial canary in the coal mine when it comes to two big home care issues: vaccination mandates and the home care workforce crisis.

On the topic of vaccination mandates, the state may be experiencing what the home care field has most feared: resistance. While a strict mandate took effect last week, many home care workers did not comply. In fact, upwards of 34,000 may remain unvaccinated, the Home Care Association of New York estimates.

This is troubling on several levels. Beyond the obvious health risks — unvaccinated workers may be contracting the virus and spreading it to peers and patients — it may be deadly for the home care industry. If they lose their jobs — a consequence of not obeying the mandate — they will be sacrificing the care of thousands of seniors across the state.

Which brings me to the other, perhaps direr, issue staring the state in the face: a profound home care workforce shortage. Like with the vaccine issue, New York is not alone in dealing with this crisis. But New York’s workforce crisis appears to be worse – to the tune of 100,000 fewer workers than needed.

Just this week, some fresh research has emerged about the national direct-care workforce shortage. And it’s not pretty. Two major findings from the new study by PHI and the Health Workforce Research Center on Long-Term Care at the University of California, San Francisco:

-A whopping 13.7 million U.S. workers were displaced from occupations with similar entry-level requirements to direct care during the first three months of COVID-19 in 2020. Such occupations included food preparation and serving, office and administrative support, and others.

-Fully 4% of direct care workers were displaced during the second quarter of 2020, and an immeasurably small number of displaced workers (from direct care or any other occupation) were re-employed into direct care.

Many direct-care workers, who include personal care aides, home health aides and nursing assistants, are employed in home care, which does not bode well for the future of home care. Perhaps there is a reason New York is struggling so much with the workforce shortage. To paraphrase that oh-so-famous New York jingle, if you can solve it there, you can solve it anywhere.  

Liza Berger is editor of McKnight’s Home Care. Email her at [email protected] Follow her at @LizaBerger19.