By ANNA GRONEWOLD
ALBANY (AP) - A worsening shortage of homecare workers in the state is leaving patients in dangerous conditions and the system on the brink of collapse, say advocates for the elderly and the disabled.
The Assembly’s health committee heard public testimony Monday about how to confront a lack of homecare workers that is expected to increase as the Baby Boomer generation ages.
Homecare workers help with daily tasks such as eating, dressing and bathing that allow for patients to remain in homes rather than hospitals or nursing homes. Health care experts said extensive training required for the job often pushes potential applicants to other minimum-wage occupations such as retail or fast food, leaving a gaping discrepancy between those who are authorized for home care through the state and those who can receive the service in full.
“It is a daily occurrence to have to notify families and hospitals that although an individual is eligible for services in the community there are physically not individuals to provide the care,” said Becky Preve, director of Franklin County Office for the Aging.
Preve said a limited number of aides in rural upstate regions means patients have been found injured in their homes, in soiled clothing and without meal support because there was no one to cover full-time care.
Home health agency North Country Home Services each week is unable to fill at least 400 hours of homecare services that have been authorized by the state, executive director Rebecca Leahy said.
The agency sends aides to patients throughout an Adirondack Mountain region about the size of Connecticut. Leahy said the agency is 88 percent funded by Medicaid. She asked lawmakers to adjust Medicaid reimbursement rates that have not budged in years to better cover travel expenses and wage increases for aides.
“My fear is that in the near future most patients in the three Adirondacks counties of Franklin, Essex and Clinton could be without services because the sole provider for most of this region will not be able to cover payroll,” Leahy said.
Lisa Holmes, director of Tompkins County Office for the Aging in central New York, said the issue is not only funding. Many homecare aide applicants balk at the 75 hours of training that may not occur for a number of months. At the end of 2016, Holmes said, Tompkins County still had about $47,000 to provide 2,000 hours of care.
Lawmakers also heard testimony from parents and guardians of disabled or ill children, who said a higher minimum wage for quality homecare workers would attract more applicants. Parents told Assembly members that at about $10 per hour it is less than what many parents pay for baby-sitters for healthy children.
Currently, the state employs about 326,000 home health workers, but it’s predicted to need more than 451,000 by 2024, according to nonprofit research and consulting group P.H.I.