Who’s Going to Care for Mom? The Impact of the Caregiver Shortage Crisis

The country as a whole is struggling with labor shortages: hotel staff, truck drivers, restaurant workers, but none more profound than the shortage of home care professionals – caregivers entrusted to keep our aging relatives safe. In fact, if anything, aging care is being hit harder than most. The numbers are only the beginning of the story.

  • Every day 10,000 adults turn 65, with 90% preferring to age at home, and approximately 70% with severe needs for long term services and support
  • By 2028, the home care industry will need to fill and estimated 4.7 million home care jobs

Consumer demand for senior home care services has never been stronger. The dilemma is that there are more aging adults in need of care than there are professional caregivers to provide the care.

There are a number of factors contributing to the caregiver shortage, including:

  • COVID-19
    • The pandemic led a lot of healthcare workers to take early retirement, including a remarkable number of nurses. Some may have been afflicted by the virus themselves, while others experienced burnout from the physical and emotional toll of caring for so many who were so ill. Fears of contracting COVID-19 at work have further compounded the caregiver staffing problem.
  • Population Trends
    • Our aging population is rising, while the younger population is declining. We’re living longer, but having fewer children. As a result, there are fewer eligible people to care for a greater number of people demanding care.
  • Society’s Negative Perception of the Profession
    • Society recognizes and values the importance of professional health care workers, generally speaking, but largely undervalues and perceives professional caregiving as low status work.
  • Low Wages
    • The typical pay rate for caregivers is lower than in many other industries, leading qualified caregivers to leave the field in favor of a job that may be easier and less stressful. Persistent low wages and the demanding nature of the work continues to drive caregiver turnover, with some estimates at 40-60%.

Legislative issues come into the equation as well. Several years ago, we lost the homemaker companion exemption, which means caregivers must be paid overtime after a 40-hour week. Since clients are reluctant to pay overtime rates, more caregivers are required to cover the same number of clients in order to avoid overtime. This puts more pressure on the labor force, with fewer people doing the work.

Creative Solutions to Continue Care

Thinking outside of the box is necessary to ensure that the care needs of the seniors you love can continue to be met effectively.

One key way to accomplish this, ironically, is by requesting more hours of care services. This is because caregivers prefer to work longer, more consistent shifts. Given the choice, most caregivers will choose an 8-hour shift over a 2-hour one.

We know that continuity of care is important to the seniors we serve, who overwhelmingly ask for the same caregiver each shift. The same is true for our caregivers. With a shortage in our caregiver pool, our best caregivers will commit to the clients who offer more work and a consistent, ongoing schedule.

Perhaps a senior family member has only been interested in a couple hours of care each week to help with housework. Now would be the perfect time to explore other service offerings, such as meals, transportation, companionship, running errands, etc.

If you’re in the beginning stages of entertaining the idea of home care, it’s more important now than ever to plan ahead and prepare for the possibility of a longer waiting time to start services. Rather than waiting until the need is urgent and you’re in crisis mode, consider what services your loved one may need in three or six months, and start exploring your options now. Before the caregiver shortage was as serious as it is now, services could often begin within 24 hours; now, many agencies have waiting lists in place – something we’ve never seen before.

The caregiver shortage is changing the amount of care that can be delivered, the timing of the care, and the price of the care that can be delivered. Being both proactive and flexible is key to ensuring you’re able to get the care you need when you need it.

Right at Home, the leading provider of Sarasota senior care and care throughout all of Sarasota County, provides professionally certified senior care services. Contact us at (941) 929-1966 for a free in-home consultation to discuss your care needs or concerns.

Michael Juceam
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