LifePath Event Tackles Workforce Crisis in Home Care

GREENFIELD — LifePath recently hosted a virtual event called “Aging Populations: Addressing the Workforce Crisis in Home- and Community-based Care.” This event brought together aging experts, physicians, legislators, providers, consumers, and caregivers to discuss the dire lack of home-care workers in our area, resulting in some older adults and people with disabilities not being able to get the care they need. Also discussed was the need for improved support for family caregivers who are struggling to meet the needs of their loved ones.

In attendance were U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern; state Sen. Jo Comerford; state Reps. Susannah Whipps and Natalie Blais; Dr. Rachel Broudy, geriatrician and medical director of Pioneer Valley Hospice and Palliative Care; Elaine Fluet, president and CEO of Care Central VNA and Hospice Inc.; Sue Pratt, director of the Care Collaborative; Lisa Gurgone, executive director of Mass Home Care; and community members and concerned individuals.

Comerford described the event as “one of the best legislative briefings that I’ve been to in my three years in the Senate.” As part of the presentation, LifePath debuted a nine-minute video called “Reimagining Care: A LifePath Call to Action,” available on LifePath’s YouTube channel. In the video, Broudy says the current lack of caregivers “is clearly a crisis, a terrible crisis right now with staffing … the things that really make older adults better is not what I’m doing in the office with their medications, but what’s happening in the home and what’s happening in the community. And it’s what support their families have, what support caregivers have.”

Elizabeth Davis, a caregiver who is certified as a home health aide (HHA), spoke about her role and the challenges HHAs face. “When the pandemic started, schools shut down … so the caregivers had to stay at home and take care of their kids.” Also, “there’s jobs that offer $15 to $18 an hour, where the home-care agencies haven’t gotten to that rate yet. Hopefully, they will soon so they can attract more aides. There’re aides out there that want to work, but it’s the pay rate … even before the pandemic, it was tough. A lot of the aides had to work for two or three agencies to make ends meet, and they still were living in poverty even with 80 hours of work.”

During the legislative discussion that followed the video, Blais said, “the word ‘home’ means so much … healthcare workers feel invisible. We see you, we feel your passion for this work, we value you, and I want to take this opportunity to thank you and recognize your excellent work.”

McGovern added, “we all say that we care deeply about senior citizens and want to honor them for all their contributions … and yet we pay home-care workers insufficient salaries for the work they’re doing.”

Whipps spoke about the “priceless gift that was given to my family by GVNA Hospice,” giving her parents the opportunity to stay in their home. She also pointed out that “nobody should be working 60 to 70 hours a week and not be paid a living wage.”

Barbara Bodzin, executive director at LifePath, argued that “we must elevate the home- and community-based workforce by valuing their knowledge and respecting their work within the home. By acknowledging the essential work carried out each day through better pay, more comprehensive benefits, guaranteed hours, job security, and career-ladder and training opportunities, we can build a strong and sustainable model of care.”