By Jeffrey P. Straub
My wife and I are the parents of a 26-year-old with cerebral palsy. Joshua was born 10 weeks premature and had
an inter-cranial bleed that resulted in spastic quadriplegia. Despite his disability, he has graduated from Southwest Minnesota State University with a double major in history and creative writing (with honors). He is currently in a PhD program at the University of Minnesota in ergonomics and human factors.
His physical disabilities have limited Joshua in his personal living needs. He cannot dress himself, transfer into or out of bed, etc. and requires a significant amount of assistance for his daily living. His has recently been approved for 24 hours / seven days a week PCA support. Joshua’s goal is to be a working, tax-paying citizen. He hopes to get the education necessary to get a job suitable to meet his needs without any state assistance.
Despite having the funding in place for 24/7 care, Joshua currently has no caregivers beyond his parents (60 and 58 years old). Joshua’s most recent two PCAs left in early January, one to take a better paying job in another state, and one to go back to school. The second employee had been with us for more than one year. We knew that both would be leaving by early December 2016. We began to seek new staff members to take over Joshua’s care. It has been more than two months of looking for new PCAs but to no avail.Ads are placed in various places (Craigslist has heretofore yielded the best results) but these have proven fruitless so far. People will apply, set up an initial interview only to fail to show up at the appointed time. This happens repeatedly. It happened twice on January 31.
There is a critical shortage in Minnesota of people willing to work in the home care industry.
This is a crisis that has been in the making for at least five years. There aren’t enough workers for one simple reaso —the money the state of Minnesota is willing to pay caregivers is simply insufficient for someone to succeed day-to day on. In this competitive job market, people are unwilling to work for these low wages. PCAs in Minnesota can expect to earn $11 or so per hour with Traditional PCA agencies and $12.50 with PCA Choice agencies. No overtime can be paid and thanks to recent Department of Labor ruling, PCAs can work no more than 40 hours without being paid overtime. When travel costs are added into the equation, the problem is even more severe as no travel costs are built into the wage structure. How can a person be expected to travel even 10-15 minutes each way for a job that may net them $11-$12.50 per hour. One proposed solution was to unionize. This happened but caregivers are reluctant to give to the union a portion of the merger earnings. Families are reluctant to support the union for a variety of reasons. The union so far has been received with mixed results. Even young children of disabled family members are providing unpaid caregivers services do to the caregiver shortage. This may be a help to families with younger children but many families do not even have this option.
This problem has been long time coming and it will not be fixed easily. Governments tend to move slowly with legislative and financial fixes. The bottom line however, is that the only real solution is an immediate raising of state funding with which to pay people who are willing to work in this industry. PCAs are a part of the essential services required in our world today. PCAs, while not “state” workers, are de facto state workers because the money to pay for them, in the main, comes from taxpayer funding.
The urgent question is what is the state of Minnesota through its legislators prepared to do to address this growing problem? It cannot be ignored and it will not go way. In our home, if I become disabled or injured, my wife will be unable to care for our adult son without my help. As we age, no matter what else happens, our capacity to care for our son diminishes. What will happen to him in this situation?
The Straub family lives in Plymouth. This letter is excerpted from documents sent to the family’s state legislators.