The University at Buffalo Law School is documenting the struggles of local home care workers and recommending solutions.
The UB Community Justice Clinic on Tuesday released a policy report titled “Homecare Industry in Crisis,” in which law students interviewed 14 people who have worked for home care agencies throughout Erie County over the last year.
The home health aides, who look after the elderly and disabled in their homes, say they’re often underpaid, understaffed and lack medical supplies, all of which can negatively impact patient care.
“They mention that they absolutely enjoy caring for their clients because their job feels fulfilling to them,” said UB law student and report co-author Jessica Tiburcio, “but they also mention that there’s this lack of communication between the agencies and workers, which then translates into them not being able to provide adequate treatment to their patients.”
The home care industry is one of the fastest growing in the United States. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are currently more than two million home care workers and there will be one million more by 2028.
Despite this, one in five home care workers live below the poverty line and more than half rely on some form of public assistance, according to a report by Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute. The median hourly wage for home care workers is $11.03 and the median annual salary is $24,000.
Home care workers in the UB report say they’re also the victims of wage theft — often not receiving overtime pay and not being reimbursed for travel while working. Both are requirements under New York state labor laws.
A lack of communication from their agencies was another major complaint. Workers report being given out-of-date care plans for their patients, as well as being placed in unsanitary homes. Some complained they were not given enough latex gloves.
There were also reports of inadequate staffing. Home care workers cannot be discharged until the next scheduled aide shows up to their shift. One worker said a fellow aide calling off of work caused her to have trouble administering her insulin.
“That alone is mind boggling because the clients are definitely in need of care because of their conditions, but aides sometimes do also have their own conditions as well,” Tiburcio said.
She and other students recommend home care agencies provide workers with all necessary supplies; ensure care plans are up to date and consistent; institute minimum staffing levels; and inspect homes before placing workers there.
They also call on the state to enforce its labor laws and ensure employees are being compensated for overtime and reimbursed for travel.
Tiburcio said the students hope to receive feedback from home care agencies now that the report has been released.
“It’s just an important industry over the coming decades and I hope there are more reports toward reforming the industry,” she said, “and I actually do hope that agencies absorb the information that’s given to them so that they can improve the care that they provide.”