2017-08-09 / Letters

Critical Workforce Shortage Creates Major Challenge

Delaware County has a rapidly growing aging population, currently ranked second within the state (31%) for the highest percentage of persons age 60 and older. The U.S. Census estimates that this population will continue to grow, with an expected increase to 37% by 2030, during which time the Baby Boomer generation will fully reach the age of 65. Furthermore, according to 2015 Census data, there is an additional 10% of Delaware County’s population who have at least one disability and require assistance with daily living activities.

Due to the rural nature of Delaware County, and limited opportunities for education, employment and access to services, there has long been an out-migration of adult children and other family members who often serve as informal caregivers.

The growth in the older adult and disability populations, compounded by the absence of, or inability of family to care for a family member, has increased the demand for paid para-professionals to provide care to frail and disabled residents - assistance with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, meal preparation and household chores.

The large majority of people requiring long term services and support prefer to receive such services in their own home, as opposed to a long term care facility. This is also the most cost effective option, as the cost of nursing home care ranges anywhere from $8,000 to $10,000 a month, most often paid through local Medicaid dollars.

Although New York state continues to expand programs and services to support in-home care for aging and disabled residents, the effectiveness of additional funding and infrastructure is impeded by the lack of home health aides to provide the services. The shortage of home care workers is largely due to factors such as low pay, lack of benefits, extensive training requirements, transportation barriers and often, difficult working conditions.

As a result of these challenges, frail and disabled individuals are either forced to move into a nursing home, or remain in their home without services, placing them at higher risk for falls, increased use of emergency services such as ambulance services and emergency departments, and further decline in health and wellbeing. At a minimum, even those served by home care are often only provided with a portion of aide hours of which they were authorized. High turnover rates, transportation and geographic isolation further compound the ability for individuals to receive quality, consistent home care services.

In February, several local aging advocates shared such challenges with the New York State Assembly’s committees on health, aging and labor at a public hearing. Participants urged committee members to recognize the impending crisis and seek solutions to support home care for thousands of residents. Consumers, caregivers and professionals all highlighted the need for increased wages for home care workers, better recruitment, opportunities for career advancement and increased funding to support the growing need.

Supporting home and community based services by addressing the home care workforce shortage is critical to building a stable and skilled workforce that is able to provide a high quality service to older adults and people with disabilities. Residents are urged to contact your state and local representatives to educate them about the home care workforce crisis and the impact it has on your family and community.

For more information, contact Delaware County Office for the Aging at 607-832-5750.


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