Homecare workers are essential
Those who plan to remain in their homes and “age in place” may well find that they’ll need a homecare worker to help them do so. Classified by the state as homecare specialists, homecare workers provide care through Medicaid-funded programs like the Medicaid Waiver and the Home Help programs.
Before COVID-19, homecare specialists were classified as non-medical, non-essential workers and were not recognized by the State as members of the healthcare workforce.
Without that recognition, some homecare workers don’t receive employment benefits, there’s no union representation and the average pay is $9.49 per hour. In April, however, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer temporarily increased their wages by $2 an hour to ensure the state’s most vulnerable residents continued to receive care during the pandemic, as well as to acknowledge that they are front-line workers risking their lives to care for others.
Henrietta Ivey is the founder of the Black Women in Homecare organization. She says this workforce is important to families who want to keep their loved ones at home and that she hopes the policy changes brought on by the pandemic will be expanded because homecare workers deserve as much.
“We provide essential services, like bathing, toileting, and meal prep for your loved ones,” Ivey says, “but we do so much more. We handle disease management, check vitals and administer medication, all the tasks families are unwilling or unable to do.”
Of this female-dominated workforce, Ivey says, some 80% are women of color. Black Women in Homecare, along with ally organizations like Impart Alliance, seeks to educate the public about the critical shortage of homecare workers, their right to earn a living wage, and their lack of benefits when in-between clients. "We want inclusiveness in the healthcare workforce and respect for the work we do. We are deemed non-essential workers but we are very essential to the people we care for,” Ivey says.
In fact, poverty rates are high among these homecare workers. According to AARP, more than half of them rely on some form of public assistance with a third relying on public healthcare coverage like Medicaid or Medicare.
A 25-year homecare veteran and licensed pharmacy technician, Ivey says she finds the work rewarding, but the below-living wage hourly pay and other barriers negatively impact the recruitment and retention of workers to meet the needs of aging baby boomers. Re-classifying homecare specialists as members of the state’s healthcare workforce could increase pay, ensure benefits and training, and bring equity to their profession, says Ivey.
A Henry Ford Health System study revealed older adults have positive health outcomes when they have a homecare worker, resulting in decreased hospital admissions and re-admissions, and reduction in debilitating social isolation. Their presence also helps to reduce the caregiver burden on the family.
“We have a passion for this work, but we need to be able to live, too. Ultimately, this issue will impact all families, whether you’re on Medicaid or private pay.”
Ivey encourages millennials, former homecare workers, and allies to support the women who do this work. “Caregivers are people who have a heart to care for others and as we age, we hope to encounter homecare caregivers who are properly compensated and respected for the work they do.”
For more information, contact Black Women in Homecare by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or calling 313.544.8921.