Looking for the answer to America’s long-term care crisis? Listen to caregivers.

11/01/2017 12:25 pm ET
<em>UDW home care provider Wanda Quinones cares for her son Josue in their home in Bakersfield, CA. Wanda cares for Josue, wh
UDW home care provider Wanda Quinones cares for her son Josue in their home in Bakersfield, CA. Wanda cares for Josue, who lives with cerebral palsy, through the state’s In-Home Supportive Services program (IHSS).

Caregiving is not easy. Home care workers—those who provide in-home care to seniors, people with disabilities, and people who live with chronic and long-term illnesses—work around the clock to ensure that their clients and loved ones can have dignity and comfort and receive quality care in their own homes.

For the over 100,000 home care providers who make up the United Domestic Workers of America, UDW/AFSCME Local 3930, caregiving means performing life-sustaining services as well as basic personal care; everything from maintaining breathing tubes to brushing teeth. And for family caregivers, it is often a 24/7 job—regardless of how many hours they are actually paid for.

And because they work in the home, caregivers can often feel very isolated, with stress and worry a constant companion. Despite this, home care can also be very fulfilling work: providing these essential services for another human being is powerful and meaningful.

But home care workers can’t pay the bills with power and meaning.

Every November, our country celebrates National Family Caregivers Month. It’s a time to reflect on the debt we owe those who care for others. Caregivers are heroes, no question, and deserve acknowledgement and appreciation. But the long-term care crisis requires that we do more than just appreciate caregivers; we must support them, as well.

Home care and other long-term care is low-paid and undervalued work and there is a shortage of people to do it. According to research by PHI National, the median income for home care work is just over $10/hour and half of all home care workers receive some sort of public assistance. This is some of the most important work a person can do, yet it provides no path to financial security.

What does this say about our values as a society?

That question of how we value home care and other long-term care work is about to get tested in monumental ways. The aging of the Baby Boom generation has us on the verge of a massive demographic shift. The Population Reference Bureau calls the current growth of the population ages 65 and older “one of the most significant demographic trends in the history of the United States”, adding “…it is not clear that sufficient preparations have been made to meet baby boomers’ anticipated needs in old age.”

<em>Margarita Herrera of Modesto, CA looks on as her daughter Betsy gets her medication ready and prepares her lunch. Margari
Margarita Herrera of Modesto, CA looks on as her daughter Betsy gets her medication ready and prepares her lunch. Margarita, 78, lives with rheumatoid arthritis, and her daughter left her career behind to care for her full-time through IHSS.

Americans are facing a long-term care crisis. There aren’t enough long-term care workers to meet our current—let alone future—needs. To bring new caregivers into the profession and ensure quality care for our loved ones and ourselves when we need it, we have to make some massive changes to how we approach long-term care.

We must listen to caregivers.

In California, caregivers are already taking the initiative to face this crisis head-on. With seniors already one-fifth of our state’s population, and our numbers set to balloon from 5.2 million to 8.4 million by 2030, our long-term care needs will be daunting, to say the least. This is a challenge, yes, but it’s also an opportunity to craft a new approach to caregiving: how we provide it and how we fund it. To meet this challenge, we must be bold and ambitious in our thinking—and we must also center our priorities on recruiting and retaining quality caregivers.

That’s why UDW members are teaming up with seniors, people with disabilities, and other domestic care workers to build a vision for universal long-term care in California. We’re calling it the Care Agenda, and it’s a plan we’re sharing with California’s care leaders and lawmakers.

The Care Agenda calls for four important things:

  1. Long-term care for all who need it regardless of income (and middle class people should not have to become poor to qualify for the care they need);
  2. Meaningful policy that is created with diverse stakeholder input to make care affordable for all;
  3. Increased options and quality of care for seniors and people with disabilities; and
  4. Improved working conditions and increased training for caregivers.
Disability activist Nikki Brown-Booker shares her story with California lawmakers at a Care Agenda event at UDW’s offices in
Disability activist Nikki Brown-Booker shares her story with California lawmakers at a Care Agenda event at UDW’s offices in Sacramento, CA.

At UDW, we believe we can create a meaningful, person-centered system of long-term care—including the right to home care—that is available to everyone who needs it. Making that belief a reality is something UDW caregivers are deeply invested in. This Family Caregivers Month, let us all commit ourselves to looking for real solutions to the care crisis—let’s listen to caregivers and the seniors and people with disabilities who require their care.

Doug Moore is the Executive Director of UDW/AFSCME Local 3930, as well as an AFSCME International Vice President.

Follow Doug Moore on Twitter @DMooreUDW

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