We have a lot to talk about this month. People all over are working on getting the workforce shortage under control. It’s becoming more and more evident that in almost every field, the low unemployment rate is creating a huge shortage of available workers, and pushing wages up. Last year, I wrote about seeing a poster on my way to work recruiting school bus drivers for a starting salary of $17.00 an hour. The other day I drove by the same school bus company, and the sign now reads $22.00 an hour to start. Very few employers can compete with a five-dollar increase in starting pay in only about one year.
Our home health care programs need state and federal legislative help to compete with those increases in starting wage. The longer we wait, the more it’s going to cost. As it is now, we’re looking at the need for a 30% to 50% increase in government funding. We need to invest to keep our health care system viable and accessible to the Minnesotans who need healthcare assistance. Now is the time to take our heads out of the sand and recognize the devastation that is happening right now in the disability community and will soon be happening in the aging community. Our front-page article says every 65 seconds a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Who is going to support their care and independence?
I’ve said it before: fast food is a better job option for those considering home health care. Wages at McDonald’s range from $8 to $12 an hour and include many nontraditional benefits like free classes in English and online high school diploma classes. They also offer more traditional tuition assistance programs, scholarship opportunities, and academic advisor services. White Castle’s starting pay is close to that of the Minnesota PCA program but also offers paid time off, tuition reimbursement, profit sharing, and 401(k)s with some matching funds. These are just a couple of major employers that our PCA program competes with for employees. These jobs don’t have nearly the stress, rigorous working hours or responsibility for your disabled brother or sister, mother, father, grandmother, or grandfather. According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Minnesota’s 36,180 nursing assistants earn an average $15.61 per hour. The average wage for home health aides ranges from $10.68 to $13.18, and DEED projects 134,779 openings in Minnesota over the coming 10 years.
We are competing with a lot of employers for entry-level workers, except our needs are very different, and in many cases, we need higher skilled workers with more education and hands-on training. We need employees who can understand colloquial or informal English, who know a little anatomy, who understand infection control and have the ability to identify and point out potential health problems as they’re occurring. We need employees with the ability to think critically under pressure. We need people who have enough patience and skill to listen to people who sometimes can’t speak clearly. And of course, we need workers who have the needed compassion to help support an individual to maintain their independence, live in their own home, and often work a rewarding job. Finally, personal care aides must be mature enough to understand their responsibilities and possess all the “soft skills” of a professional employee, arriving on time ready to start work and do their job without outside distractions.
What will happen to our independence living programs when many more City Councils pass the $15 an hour minimum wage ordinance? We know it won’t be long before it is statewide law. Direct support staff and many other technically skilled “entry-level” jobs are going to have to start above the minimum wage to get quality workers. I hope the legislature recognizes that before they pass laws requiring $15 starting salaries.
I know I sound like a broken record. All I can say is that our health care system is broken for everyone, and it needs to be fixed so that month after month and year after year we’re not telling the same story to the same policymakers who want to help, but are more concerned about other, louder voices and the deeper-pocket lobbyists at the Capitol whose only interest in the healthcare infrastructure is to cut costs…at any cost.
Happy Halloween to all. But first, get out and enjoy some fall color before the trees are bare and we’re all shivering!