Nearly three years ago, Melissa Lanning, a personal care assistant (PCA), welcomed her client Anna Misamore into her own home. Anna is a 14-year-old who was born with cerebral palsy (CP). Anna’s condition, as a result of CP, includes spastic muscles, scoliosis and difficulties with speech, communication, movement and eating. CP also impacts Anna’s ability to walk and stand, so Anna uses a wheelchair.
Due to shortfalls in Anna’s care in her prior home, the county sought a new home for Anna. At the time, Melissa had an accessible home and served as Anna’s PCA, so she was the first one to get the call. She took in Anna with open arms.
This is just one extraordinary story of a PCA who has gone above and beyond to help her client live life to the fullest. Home care is full of stories of dedicated caregivers, but if we do not boost wages for these essential workers, the system Minnesotans with disabilities rely on for their care could collapse.
PCAs provide in-home care for people with disabilities and older adults. This care saves the state precious dollars by serving people not only where they prefer to be, but also in settings that are significantly less costly than other health care environments.
PCAs like Melissa provide these services while receiving a wage that is less than what they could earn per hour at a local retailer or fast-food restaurant. The minimum wage currently agreed upon by the Minnesota Department of Human Services and the SEIU union is $13.25 an hour for many PCAs. For PCAs not covered by the SEIU contract, the average minimum wage is about $12 per hour.
According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s report Growing Demand for Caregivers, PCAs are Minnesota’s second-largest occupation, accounting for 65,000 people. Employment projections for 2014 to 2024 show double-digit growth in the demand for this role. Additionally, DEED identified PCAs as the second most in-demand job across the state. However, their median annual wage of $28,562 per year is about $10,000 less than the average of the top 10 jobs they list as most in-demand.
While Minnesota’s population ages and the need for caregivers increases, it has become increasingly difficult for Minnesota’s home care providers to attract caregivers to enter the profession to do this important type of work at this low wage. The workforce shortage is the most significant challenge home care providers face in its effort to provide care to Minnesotans with disabilities and older adults.
Because the care services PCA clients receive is funded by Minnesota’s Medicaid program, the rate the state will pay for services is capped by the state Legislature, and these rates are barely enough to cover the cost of care. That means, in order to boost wages, the state also needs to increase the reimbursement rate paid to providers.
Fortunately for Minnesotans, Gov. Tim Walz and the Legislature have both put forward proposals to do just this, and this budget year is the time to take action. We have the opportunity to support people with disabilities, provide more economic stability to critical workers, and help the state keep saving valuable dollars. Let’s not let Melissa and the other valiant home care workers down.
John Dahm is the president and CEO of Accra.
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