In-home care workers deserve better care
There exists a serious problem in our community that remains hidden behind the doors of our neighbors. It is drastically affecting the overall health and well-being of our community. That problem is the neglect of home care workers who struggle to serve our low-income elderly and disabled neighbors who receive care in their homes. This problem has recently been brought to light by in-home supportive or home care workers who recently appealed to the North Bay Workers' Rights Board to address their unfair working conditions.
The North Bay Workers' Rights Board is a community-based board of leaders and professionals in our educational, faith and labor communities, which was created to address labor disputes. After collecting extensive testimony from home care workers at a hearing on Aug. 29 and reviewing the practices of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and county staff, as well as reviewing studies on the state and national levels, the board issued its recommendations on Nov. 12.
The rights board found that the lack of support provided by the county to in-home supportive workers is jeopardizing the quality and level of care given to the disabled and aging who prefer to stay in their homes rather than move to a skilled-nursing facility. Moreover, the supervisors have asserted their intent to exclude in-home supportive workers from a proposed $15 an hour living wage ordinance.
A fundamental finding of the board was, according to University of Massachusetts economist Dr. Jeannette Wicks-Lim, the startling fact that at a $15-an-hour wage for a typical in-home supportive worker, employed an average of 23 hours per week, would amount to around $21,000 per year per patient; whereas the estimated cost for serving that same patient in a skilled nursing facility would be around $92,000 – a cost differential of $71,000. The approximately 4,000 in-home supportive workers in Sonoma County receive only $11.65 an hour with only one in eight receiving health benefits and none receiving sick leave. With such below-standard compensation, the difficulty of retaining home care workers creates a serious problem. Because of our growing aging population, the state Employment Development Department estimates that the demand for home care workers will increase by 46 percent between 2008-2018, which in numerical terms, means more than 200,000 home care workers will be needed.
The North Bay Workers' Rights Board's investigation revealed that 48 percent of in-home care workers in California are forced to rely on public assistance.
In view of these findings, the North Bay Workers' Rights Board made some very specific recommendations to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors:
Recognize the needs of in-home supportive workers so they can effectively serve the elderly and disabled who prefer to remain in their homes;
Renegotiate the living wage ordinance and create a path to a $15-an-hour wage for in-home care workers;
Recognize the overall economic impact of the home health industry on the county, because of its projected growth, by incentivizing the county Department of Human Services to provide programs of continuing education and training for in-home care workers.
The care of the disabled and aging in our county is dependent upon the quality and retention of home care workers. Attending to the needs of these workers is indispensable for ensuring the quality of our growing health care needs. To learn more about the findings and recommendations of the North Bay Workers' Rights Board go to northbayjobswithjustice.org.
The Rev. Raymond Decker is a former Harvard Law School visiting scholar. He serves on the executive committee of Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice and is a member of the North Bay Workers' Rights Board. He lives in Santa Rosa.