Whether we like it or not, it’s going to happen to all of us — and few are thinking about it or planning for it. We will all age. And at some point, 70 percent of us will need help with activities of daily living, such as dressing, bathing and transportation.
As Washington residents, we’re fortunate. We live in a state that’s created an effective and efficient long-term care system. The backbone of our system are tens of thousands of home care workers — those who assist the elderly and people with disabilities in their homes.
But the system is already at a breaking point, with many clients finding it hard to find qualified caregivers — and the challenge will only grow. Aging baby boomers will stretch the capacity of the already thin caregiver workforce. The statistics? Between 2010 and 2030, the need for caregivers is estimated to increase by 56 percent.
But recently, Republicans in the state Senate put forward a budget that would make it harder to find home care workers, and hurt efforts to recruit and retain them. Their budget rejects funding to create a livable wage for caregivers and makes deep cuts to their health care benefits.
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Funding the home-care provider contract is a smart expenditure of state money; it would phase in raises for home-care workers to get to a living wage of $15 per hour by 2019, and would help stabilize a profession that’s projected to be the fastest growing in America.
In addition, boomers have had fewer children than previous generations. By 2030, the pool of potential family caregivers will decline by nearly half. Today, 850,000 unpaid family caregivers are in our state, but this informal system will not be sustainable.
Some people become a caregiver because a loved one needs care. After the family member heals or dies, they stay in the field. Funding this contract is vital to keeping those who have a natural aptitude for the work in the field — if wages aren’t sufficient, they will leave.
This contract is a wise investment. In-home care makes it possible for people to stay in their own homes, where they’re happier, and it’s one-third the cost of institutional care. Families and the state save money.
Specialized education training is included for caregivers in this contract. Some seniors require care tailored to a specific condition, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The Legislature should invest in maintaining a workforce that can provide quality care for its elderly and those with disabilities.
Furthermore, caregivers need a boost in pay. A raise would help lift many out of poverty and decrease reliance on public assistance programs. Any investment in a livable wage would go back into our local economies. These workers aren’t purchasing luxury items — they’re buying bread and shoes and milk for their children.
An AARP national survey has consistently ranked Washington as having the top two or three long-term care systems in the country for access and services, and about 35th per capita for expenditures. This ratio means our state’s system is both efficient and effective — let’s keep it that way.
Jerry Reilly is a former Washington Medicaid director and former chair of the ElderCare Alliance. Contact him at email@example.com