In-Depth: Home healthcare worker shortage has local families waiting for help

Deborah Van Kleef and her husband are just one of hundreds of families who are waiting for the in-home healthcare help they desperately need.The couple is doing all they can to keep Deborah’s 94-year-old mother in her home, but after her mom broke her arm in February, a national shortage of in-home caregivers has made it very difficult on her family.“Oh I love my mom more than I can say,” Van Kleef said. “She’s always believed in me, and because she’s a great role model, a great example.”Van Kleef said after her mother broke her arm, getting her the care she needs has proven extremely difficult. “And then she broke her arm and immediately, almost overnight, she needed 24-hour care. Even when I’m not with her, it’s a 24/7 responsibility,” Van Kleef said. “We couldn’t find the in-home help we needed so she could continue to live in her own home and so my husband and I, and our son, who happened to be with us during this period, started rotating nights.”Nita Bring-Mazurek, Director of Community Waiver Services with the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging, said the Van Kleef family is not alone.Bring-Mazurek confirmed some 550 families in the five-county area served by her agency are waiting for in-home help, but the continued shortage of in-home healthcare professionals has made it impossible to meet the growing demand.She said it’s crucial more federal funding is approved to help states like Ohio bolster their in-home care workforce, by helping to increase wages and get more qualified people to apply for hundreds of job openings here in Northeast Ohio.“It has been very frustrating for families and caregivers alike,” Bring Mazurek said. “We’re all advocating across the whole state to help elevate this whole profession and help bring about more funding on all levels of government.”Bring-Mazurek pointed to Senate Bill 2210, co-sponsored by Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, (D-Ohio, District 13), which is calling for $100 million to help states with their in-home care workforce issues.Craig Thomas, Senior Director of Clinical Services with the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging, said wages for these healthcare professionals must increase to help local agencies recruit enough qualified employees.”One agency said that they had five interviews lined up, and then over the course of the week no one showed up, so people aren’t showing up because they find other alternatives,” Thomas said. “I think when you look at the competition, if someone can go into Amazon and make that kind of money, we need to be at parody with that so that we can provide people with a living wage.” Tracey Mason, Administrator with Cuyahoga County Senior and Adult Services, said it’s crucial the State of Ohio soon increase the Medicaid reimbursement rates for these caregivers.“We have to revisit the compensation package for many of these positions,” Mason said. “It’s so important for older adults to be able to age in place and maintain their independence.”The Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging said those who would like to apply for an in-home care job can contact them online or call 216-621-0303, or 1-800-626-7277 to reach its Provider Operations Department.Meanwhile, Van Kleef believes the federal government has to make the growing population of seniors a priority in the coming years to avoid a potential healthcare crisis.“Things can just turn on a dime, somebody can be well one day and then something happens, and their needs change completely,” Van Kleef said. “Everyone is going to get to this point, and they’re either going to be in a nursing home or they’re going to be at home needing home care, and it’s our responsibly as a society to take care of our elders.”

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