By now, you know the terrible story of COVID-19 deaths in our nursing homes, a tragedy compounded by the administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo in an attempt to avoid accountability. In all, nearly 19,000 have died.
The story of nursing homes is made sadder still by the fact that many of those who died could have been cared for at home, potentially avoiding the deadly virus. But the fact is, 24 percent of home care consumers are unable the access the care they need. Ultimately, many are forced into nursing homes, even though they desperately want to stay in their own homes.
Home care for seniors and the disabled is in a sorry state in New York. About 500,000 New Yorkers need home care, a figure that grows by thousands every year due to the state’s aging population. What’s more, even if you can afford it, good luck finding quality home care.
As with so many societal problems, follow the money. The average wage of home care workers is $13 an hour. They earn a median annual salary of $22,000. Forty-two percent live in or near poverty, for a job that requires energy, commitment, and compassion.
The result is a field that constantly loses workers, and struggles to replace the ones who leave. Supply and demand are completely at odds, and the human toll is mounting.
But there is promising news, in the form of new legislation. It’s called the Fair Pay for Home Care Act. Heavyweight legislators and a growing cadre of cosponsors in the state Senate and Assembly back the bill.
In brief, the Fair Pay Act would raise the pay of home care workers to 150 percent of their region’s prevailing minimum wage. For example, a worker in the Mid-Hudson Region currently making $22,000 a year now—funded by Medicaid—would get a raise to $35,000. Health benefits would also be provided.
For the hardheaded among us, this sounds like an expensive program. And it would cost an additional $4 billion a year. But a smart analysis from CUNY shows that the economic benefits would more than outweigh the costs. People who make more, pay more in income and sales taxes. They also spend more, which generates jobs in other fields. And they typically need far less public assistance.
A living wage for home care workers means higher retention of those workers. And with demand growing, this is a field that needs more workers—with the kind of work that can’t be automated or outsourced.
But set aside the pure economics, and consider the human element. This would mean you or a loved one could actually find quality care. Care at home, that is, and not in a nursing home.
A grassroots advocacy group, the New York Caring Majority, is whipping up support for the Fair Pay for Home Care Act. The need is urgent, and so is the timing. The goal is to get this passed in the upcoming legislative session. To learn more and get involved, visit their website or Facebook page and watch their moving, short video.
If ever there was a moment for home care reform, this is it.
The River is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the newsroom.