Home care worker shortage looms as boomers age

There's a national shortage of home care workers. Tori McKenzie, a carer with Harmony Home Care and clients Jack and Maria Gill explain why it's an important and meaningful calling.

Home care work isn't the most glamorous or lucrative, but for some, it's the perfect fit.

“The people who do it aren’t in it for the money,” said Patrick Philbrick, who, with his wife, owns Harmony Home Care. “It takes a special person who really loves caring for people. I’m in this business and my wife’s in this business because we’re that way.”

Unfortunately, the pool of workers is limited and the need only increases as baby boomers' pass retirement age – which is happening at the rate of about 10,000 per day, said Philbrick.

Harmony Home Care and other home care agencies are constantly working to find and keep qualified workers. The home care landscape in California changed a couple of years ago when legislation was passed to address unscrupulous home care workers who were exploiting their vulnerable clients.

California home care agencies must fulfill certain requirements, including criminal background checks for workers. Home care aids who do not work for an agency do not have to be registered on the Home Care Services Bureau database, but it is ‘highly recommended’ that they go through the certification process as well “to provide clients with the sense of security they are seeking,” according to information posted on the California Department of Social Services website.

But the problem of finding qualified home care workers isn’t exclusive to California. Nationwide, the shortage has raised concerns about the potential for harm to the elderly and disabled going without care.

Some may confuse home care with home health workers, Philbrick explained that home health workers have medical training, usually as nurses, and they tend to medical needs such as wound care, administering intravenous medication, bed sores and the like. The home health sector also is facing a shortage of workers, for different reasons.

Home care workers deal with non-medical needs like meal preparation, hygiene, light housework, errands and transportation to doctor appointments – relatively simple tasks that can mean the difference between the elderly and/or disabled being able to stay in their homes or go into a more restrictive level of care.

Unless they purchase long term care policies, most insurance does not cover home care workers, Philbrick said. Because of that, home care might be out of reach financially to many low income people, although Sacramento County can help pay for it through its In-Home Supportive Services program, and there are options for veterans through the Veterans Administration.

Because it is such a personal service, a good fit between the carer and the cared for is important.

Jack and Maria Gill found such a fit with Harmony Home Care worker Tori McKenzie.

The Gills had lived alone in their El Dorado Hills home, needing only a bit of help from their grown children, up until a few months ago, when Maria underwent surgery. After she was discharged from the nursing home where she recuperated, her needs increased.

She and her family interviewed a number of agencies before finding the Philbricks, with whom they developed a quick rapport.

McKenzie, the Harmony care-giver assigned to the Gills, is a kindred spirit of the Philbricks in their devotion to care-giving. Before going into elder-care, she worked as a massage therapist and even has culinary training, which comes in handy for her home health work.

McKenzie and the Gills bonded rapidly.

“We talk, we laugh – we just live together, for about five hours every day!” said McKenzie, laughing. For their part, the Gills and their children are grateful to have found a cheerful, capable and loving carer in McKenzie.

“It has been just a huge sigh of relief to know that my parents are in good hands and my mother is being taken care of,” said the Gills’ youngest daughter, Sandra Sanchez, adding that the sense of security was “priceless.”

 

A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed information about home care options for veterans.

© 2017 KXTV-TV


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