SEATTLE - Two studies released this month show a dilemma for Washington's home health-care industry: how to attract more people to jobs that provide daily living assistance to elderly and individuals with disabilities. One report paints Home Care Aides' jobs as chronically low-paid; the other says the demand for their services will boom in coming years.
If most people want to remain at home as they age instead of in a nursing home, Washington will need tens of thousands more Home Care Aides in the next 20 years, according to a report from the University of Washington's Center for Health Workforce Studies. That means changing the perception that home care is a low-paying, dead-end job.
A state law which took effect in January could help. It requires 75 hours of training, a certification exam, and more extensive background checks for Home Care Aides. Sue Skillman, who authored the UW report as the center's deputy director, says these workers are already in short supply.
"This is a part of the health-care workforce that doesn't get as much attention as the primary-care physicians or registered nurses, but they're extremely important. It's one way to enter health-care careers or social-service careers, through home care aide."
The number of Washingtonians age 65 and older is expected to triple by 2030, the UW report says, and the number of low-income people on Medicaid will double.
Another report, issued by SEIU Healthcare Northwest, the union that represents Home Care Aides, says many of them are struggling financially and more than half are age 50 or older. Charissa Raynor, who heads the union's training partnership, says the new requirements will increase the professionalism of Home Care Aides.
"It's very difficult to recruit, even in this environment, for jobs that pay $10 an hour and have low benefits. More training and hope for a career pathway could begin to turn the dial on making this more attractive work for job-seekers."
Raynor says more skills and training should allow them to command a higher wage in some cases. SEIU's survey of Home Care Aides in Washington shows nearly one-third have incomes below the federal poverty level, affecting job satisfaction and turnover rates.