Pioneering direct care program is encouraging news in care crisis

A pioneering PCA Curriculum Program could address critical direct care workforce crisis while offering meaningful career path and opportunities. The Metropolitan Center for Independent Living (MCIL), through a committee of stakeholders, is working on a solution to the unprecedented crisis in hiring and retaining direct care workers. The personal care assistants (PCA) shortage has dire consequences. 

A $208,000 Community Innovation Bush Foundation Grant supports MCIL’s PCA Community Innovation Project committee. The committee worked for three years to create lasting reform that deepens career opportunities, attracts more people to new career paths, and expands the PCA workforce. The result is a landmark approach to solve the crisis by planning to develop a first-ever credit-based curriculum leading to the credential of a certified PCA. Faculty at Minnesota State have also been identified to work on this far-reaching project. 

“For our elders and citizens living with disabilities there is no quality of life unless a well-trained, fairly compensated workforce of PCAs and direct support professionals (DSPs) is maintained,” said Beth Fondell, MCIL board chairman. “The crisis of support has now become an emergency. Recognizing the lack of opportunities for growth and development in this profession has stifled recruitment and increased turnover to levels not previously witnessed.” 

The PCA Certification Program, based partly on the independent living philosophy, is being developed as a voluntary third tier to Minnesota’s PCA Career Lattice for the 100,000-plus PCAs in Minnesota and potentially for the nearly four million PCAs nationwide. Plans include offering a curriculum through high schools, post-secondary educational institutions and workforce training centers. The committee is also pursuing a formal PCA apprenticeship program with the state and the U.S. Department of Labor, which requires formalized education to be met by the Certified PCA curriculum. The committee is also eyeing a PCA service corps education model. 

“I do not know of a more severe crisis than what we are experiencing today in the Home and Community Base Services system with so many closings of group homes, nursing homes, severe worker shortages throughout our long-term services and supports system including Minnesota’s PCA programs,” said Jesse Bethke Gomez, MCIL executive director. “We need to bring forth solutions such as the curriculum leading to the credential of the Certified PCA. With the development of this new Certified PCA curriculum along with the PCA Rate Framework passed into law in 2021, this is about solving the PCA crisis. It is also about economic justice for PCAs.” 

State statistics show that 612,000 Minnesotans have a serious disability. Minnesota’s elderly population is projected to rise to 1,262,000 by 2030. 

MCIL and its leadership have long played key roles in studying direct care workforce issues and contributing to reports, including as report approved in 2018 by the Olmstead SubCabinet. That report’s recommendations included “provide tiered credential options and career ladders for direct care and support professionals.” 

In response to the report and in recognition of the workforce crisis, the legislature passed into law the Minnesota PCA Rate Framework in 2021, which considers competitive workforce factors such as compensation for similar positions. The new law, together with the planned program, could contribute greatly to solving the workforce crisis.