Home-care work­ers’ bid for higher pay faces up­hill bat­tle

Modern Healthcare - - NEWS - By Steven Ross John­son and Adam Ruben­fire

Home-care work­ers na­tion­wide took to the streets last week to join fast-food em­ploy­ees in call­ing for a $15-an-hour min­i­mum wage. But an­a­lysts say that kind of pay hike may be un­re­al­is­tic for home health providers, many of whom have been squeezed in re­cent years by state Med­i­caid pay cuts.

Low-wage work­ers in as many as 150 U.S. ci­ties protested to de­mand higher pay and broader work­ers’ rights. On Chicago’s South Side, about 50 home-care work­ers were part of a crowd of more than 200 lin­ing the side­walks in front of a McDon­ald’s restau­rant hold­ing picket signs that read “Fight for 15.”

As a per­sonal care aide for an adult with Down’s syn­drome, Evan­gela Bryant, 50, works 40 hours a week at an hourly wage of $8.75. With a child in col­lege and another in high school, she said money is al­ways tight, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to pay monthly bills. “I’m strug­gling now,” said Bryant, who par­tic­i­pated in the protest. “I wouldn’t strug­gle with $15 an hour.”

But Toby Wann, founder of the Ob­sid­ian Re­search Group, said most home-care com­pa­nies “are al­ready kind of barely sur­viv­ing as it is. You’re squeez­ing (providers) on the rev­enue side and now you’re go­ing to po­ten­tially in­crease their costs from a la­bor stand­point. It would force more smaller mom-and-pop shops out of business.”

If home-care providers are forced to pay higher wages, they likely will have to ask the states to boost Med­i­caid hourly rates, said Kevin El­lich, se­nior re­search an­a­lyst with as­set man­age­ment firm Piper Jaf­fray. El­derly pa­tients who don’t have Med­i­caid cov­er­age for home care might not be able to af­ford those higher rates, he added.

But Peter Lazes, di­rec­tor of the Health­care Trans­for­ma­tion Project at Cor­nell Univer­sity, ar­gued that higher wages would lower staff turnover rates, which would re­duce train­ing costs for home-care agen­cies.

The me­dian hourly wage for home health aides, whose du­ties in­clude treat­ing wounds, man­ag­ing med­i­ca­tions, bathing and dress­ing el­derly and dis­abled pa­tients, was $10.10 in 2013, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Bureau of La­bor Statis­tics. Per­sonal care aides had a me­dian hourly wage of $9.67. There were about 1.2 mil­lion per­sonal care aides in 2012, a num­ber that is ex­pected to grow 49% by 2022, ac­cord­ing to the agency.

One in four home health work­ers has house­hold in­come be­low the fed­eral poverty line, and more than 1 in 3 do not have health in­surance, ac­cord­ing to the Para­pro­fes­sional Health­care In­sti­tute, an ad­vo­cacy group for health work­ers who care for dis­abled peo­ple.

The Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees In­ter­na­tional Union’s decision to en­cour­age its mem­bers who are home health work­ers to join in the wage fight fol­lows a June U.S. Supreme Court rul­ing that home-care work­ers who re­ceive state fund­ing for their ser­vices, but are em­ployed by a pri­vate client, can­not be forced to pay mem­ber fees if they refuse to join a union.

Lil­iana Cordero, a non-union home health aide in Chicago who makes $9.75 an hour, said she works for two home-care agen­cies to make ends meet. She said many aides strug­gle to af­ford gas and up­keep for their cars, which they of­ten use to trans­port pa­tients. “I love what I do,” she said. “I don’t want to go some­where else be­cause they pay more, con­sid­er­ing that my pas­sion is tak­ing care of the el­derly.”

Adam Ruben­fire is a free­lance writer based in Detroit.

Home-care work­ers joined fast-food em­ploy­ees in the streets

of Chicago last week to de­mand a $15-an-hour min­i­mum wage.

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