The following story appears in the February issue of The Business Monthly serving Howard and Anne Arundel counties, and is used with permission.
By George Berkheimer
PHI (formerly the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute) estimates that direct care workers deliver 70-80% of all long-term care and professional assistance in the United States.
Personal care aides, home health aides and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) constitute one third of the total health care workforce and currently provide assistance to 15% of Maryland adults aged 65 or older.
Demographic changes and a rapidly rising senior population in Maryland are driving the demand for these workers, but they are in such short supply that the Maryland Regional Direct Services Collaborative (MRDSC) has declared the situation a crisis.
Housed within the Rodham Institute at the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences in the District of Columbia, the Collaborative defines its mission as assuring the availability of trained direct services workers across Maryland and the District of Columbia and is leading the effort to address the shortage.
According to Ron Carlson, executive director of the MRDSC, the growing demand for long-term care means that Maryland will need 40% more direct service workers by 2024, but recruitment and retention present huge challenges.
For starters, the duties are emotionally and physically demanding, advancement opportunities are scant, and workers rarely earn more than minimum wage. According to a MRDSC fact sheet, one tenth of the Maryland direct service workforce lives in poverty, and 43% rely on some form of public assistance.
“People going into these jobs are [typically] coming in from at-risk areas of the state,” Carlson said. “Many have not graduated from high school, and employment draws very heavily on the immigrant population.”
The retention statistic provided by Kevin Heffner, president of the Columbia-based LifeSpan Network that represents an association of about 340 senior service organizations, is drastic.
“This is a generalization, but in Maryland the turnover of direct care workers in nursing homes is 100%,” he said.
To draw attention to the problem, the MRDSC has launched an awareness campaign for 2020 and is advancing policies to improve direct service worker wages and benefits, address workforce vacancies and shortages, and reduce turnover.
It is also pursuing regional policies to remove employment barriers and support workforce training.
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