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POLICY: What about a fair shake for home care workers? by Mary Kay Henry, SEIU

SeiuMary Kay Henry is an Executive Vice President of the SEIU, the nation’s largest health care
union where she’s the head of the union’s Health Systems Division. The SEIU has been very active in health care generally, not least in their “alliance” with Wal-Mart and others on national reform. But there are other issues too that they care about. Here’s another issue that concerns her and probably given where we’re going we should all be concerned about them. What about fair share for the poorest care givers—home care aides?

Seventy-three-year-old Evelyn Coke worked for 20 years as a home care attendant for the elderly for sometimes as many as 24 hours a day, four days a week,. She occasionally even slept overnight at her clients’ homes so she could be there for them if they needed her. Unfortunately, because of the “companionship exemption” under the Fair Labor Standards Act, she rarely ever received overtime pay for the extended hours she put in. Today Evelyn stands alone as the sole plaintiff awaiting a Supreme Court decision. How the justices rule on Long Island Care at Home Ltd v. Coke might mean larger paychecks, overtime coverage, and ultimately a reduction in high turnover, which could go a long way to reducing shortages in one of the nation’s fastest growing occupations — home care workers.

As SEIU continues promoting new health care solutions, we must
remember the contributions of health care industry workers — especially
in the midst of a looming “care gap” and an aging elderly population
expected to grow 40% by 2030. This “care gap” is present in nursing
homes, assisted living facilities, and home and community-based care
across the country. As the number of elderly Americans increases
dramatically, the long-term care industry is not keeping pace. We are
barreling toward a crisis, and it is going to take some innovative
thinking and some radically different ways of doing things to avert
what could be a disaster for a generation of Baby Boomers who will all
too soon hit their “golden years.”

I’ve devoted my life to helping America’s health caregivers improve
their jobs and the quality of care they give their patients. When I
started working with SEIU more than 20 years ago, I realized that a
rational and humane health care system was necessary—but you can’t have
a good system without a stable workforce. Currently there are more than
one million workers in the United States who help sick and infirm
clients with both survival and quality of life tasks like dressing,
bathing, cooking, and cleaning. For some families, the help of a home
care assistant is a matter of life and death. Yet most of these
caregivers work for a pittance, with no health insurance, no sick time
and no vacation. Is it any wonder that it’s difficult to find and keep
caregivers?

That’s why SEIU Healthcare—the nation’s long-term care union—is
uniting caregivers, seniors, people with disabilities, and community
leaders to build a stable, professional long term care workforce. We
need to ensure that patients and health care consumers will receive the
quality care and support they need, now and in the future. And a key
way to do that is to respect and support workers in the health care and
long-term care industries. We must invest in professionalizing the
industry. We must compensate workers with wages and overtime benefits
that stabilize the workforce. And, most importantly, we must
re-evaluate the critical role home care workers play in our
society—before we are overcome by the “Care Crisis.”

 

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Julie DiamondDavidSBDRandy DeckerBarry Carol Recent comment authors
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Julie Diamond
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We are so thankful that you have this blog. We look forward to reading it daily and wanted to let you ow great it is and thank you..
From all of us at
Abundant Personal Care Services
Home health care care givers.

Barry Carol
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Barry Carol

Peter, I lost count of how many times I’ve heard calls for more taxpayer funding of various government agencies and functions whether its border security, the FDA, FTC, SEC, Medicaid, the public schools, higher education, medical research, etc., etc. Each argument, in isolation, is at least somewhat plausible. However, resources are finite, there is a limit to what people are willing to pay in taxes, and, in the U.S. that limit is undoubtedly lower than it is in most of Europe and Canada. I wish there were a lot more emphasis on spending the resources we already provide more intelligently.… Read more »

Peter
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Peter

Barry, my use of the word “sealed” was certainly an overstatement of possibility. But it can be made much better with more border personnel and technology as long as there’s a committment for funding. The funding has never been there. It’s interesting that during the Mexico free trade discussion one large argument was free trade would solve illegal immigration – just another lie. As for a personal ID maybe we could just all have passports, they seem to be pretty much tamperproof. That would also not require a whole new government agency. On the healthcare issue you may be right.… Read more »

Barry Carol
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Barry Carol

Peter, I generally agree with most of your immigration comments. Sealing a 2,000 mile border with Mexico, however, falls into the category of easy to say and very tough to do – with or without a wall. As for immigrants’ use of healthcare resources, my sense is that it is generally overstated. The most expensive resources they use relate to childbirth, and, except for a few areas where a heavy immigrant presence strains emergency room resources, they really don’t use much healthcare overall because most of them are young and healthy. Their impact on the schools is probably more significant.… Read more »

Peter
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Peter

SBD first let me state that I am sick and tired of Washington looking the other way when it comes to illegal immigrants from Mexico. But the politicians look the other way because their business supporters want the cheap labor and consumers like the low prices. Immigrants from all countries have always been used for the crap work. Just look at the history of the meat packing industry. Mexico IS the big winner as you stated for the billions sent back there. Mexico does not need to fix their economy when they can export their problems and import cash, so… Read more »

David
Guest

It has been interesting to read the comments here by a seemingly diverse set of people. During my graduate work for my MBA in Health Services Management, we had to proffer ideas on policy reform. One of my suggestions was moving towards a national health plan that would at least cover basic services. Obviously, the cost would be extremely high to provide full benefits for all. Perhaps a national plan would cover a certain standard of care for all (legal citizens and/or taxpayers). This might include things such as regular office visits and most treatments that could be done by… Read more »

SBD
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SBD

Peter, The only way I could get health insurance was by joining some Association and paying Union Dues to a Union I know nothing about. I guess that makes me a Union supporter in the strict sense of the term. Also, your comment about supporting a desparate population with few options having to work for low wages and benifits for cost savings misses the mark. The illegal immigrants that come here to work could care less about becoming legal or benefits. They are not immigrating to this country like my parents did and maybe your as well, with the intention… Read more »

Peter
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Peter

Eric, your proposal shifts costs in your favor it does not reduce them. But as you did not answer my origiinal statement on your post I will re-state it – you can now opt-out of the insurance game without waiting for any legislation. What’s stopping you? I agree with tranparent pricing (one price for all) and cutting out the private insurers in a single pay government run system, but everyone will have to shoulder some pain – higher taxes, reduced reimbursments, single government payer. However, docs and hospitals will be guaranteed payment with no collections problems, no matter who walks… Read more »

SBD
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SBD

Dear Mary Kay Henry, Please stop the SEIU we care bit and just tell everyone the real reason behind your interest in the so called “Care Crisis”, the Immigration Bill. The only thing the SEIU cares about is increasing their membership at any cost. The long standing principle of the Labor Movement has always seen illegal immigration as a threat, not an opportunity. Unions were formed to protect the wages of their membership from those willing to work for far less than the wages they were paid. At the forefront in abadoning this long held principle is the SEIU who… Read more »

Randy Decker
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Randy Decker

I’ve been a male caregiver but yes more are women. Most people would rather be taken care of at home then a nursing home. Yes, nursing homes will see a decline in income but patients that need the care will receive it at home from a well paid, trained and competent home health care worker. As the article states, the crisis is coming but good people, willing to work togther, can and will need to find solutions. Better pay and benefits along with training will allow us to shift costs from nursing care to home care which is already occuring.… Read more »

Barry Carol
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Barry Carol

According to the AARP, the average nationwide annual cost of nursing home care is approximately $74,000. In NYC, Long Island, Westchester, Southern Connecticut and Northern NJ, it can easily top $100,000. Nursing home care already consumes a large chunk of the Medicaid budget for the poorest of the elderly and disabled. Long term care insurance is very expensive, and many people can’t buy it an any price because of poor health or disability. Many of those who start off paying out-of-pocket drain their life savings within a couple of years. Custodial care for people who can no longer perform some… Read more »

Eric Novack
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Peter- 1. did not answer the questions 2. not sure how reducing the administrative costs of healthcare is self-serving. Also not sure how price transparency is self serving. 3. no idea how much it might save, but PNHP speaks of (I believe) up to $300 billion in admin. costs that would be eliminated under a ‘medicare-for-all’ scheme. Not sure how those costs would go away under single payer, but reducing the number of non-provider personnel in physician offices, physical therapy offices, hospitals, as well as hospice companies and home care companies– not to mention the fact that less space is… Read more »

Peter
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Peter

“As I believe I stated at THCB previously, once all rates are truly transparent, a remarkable thing will happen:
Doctors no longer need to be a part of insurance plans. They can just publish their own rates, eliminate much of their billing staff, and go simply assist patients in filing claims when the dollars amount is high enough to warrant it.
And the total cost of healthcare would decrease.”
Posted by: Eric Novack
Maybe Eric the dollars will come from the above brilliant self serving plan to lower healthcare costs.
Any estimates as to the billions of dollars saved?

Eric Novack
Guest

Peter- I do not believe my questions were so difficult— nor are they ‘hostile’.
Ms. Henry has presented an opinion about a group of people who provide health care services.
Which of my questions are unreasonable? Perhaps you wish to try to answer the questions? Et tu, Neimon?

Peter
Guest
Peter

This situation would not exist if men were the majority of caregivers. For some biological reason women seem to feel it their duty to look after others before looking after themselves.
Eric, what would be the cost if those same patients were looked after in institutions – run by doctors? Your anti-union bias is quite noticable.