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Low wages mean elderly care shortages. Ohio’s new budget could help.

Patient walks on walker with help of nursing staffer
As Ohio's population ages, there aren't enough home care workers to go around, partly because of low wages.

Ohio’s population is aging rapidly, but the elderly care industry isn’t keeping pace. A line in the state’s proposed budget could help.

As Ohio’s population ages, the need for elderly care workers grows. But between the demanding work and low wages, staffing shortages loom large, especially for home care services.

A line in the governor’s proposed budget addresses that worker shortage by raising the minimum wage for home care workers to $16 an hour.

That’s a big jump from the $12 an hour home care workers in Ohio earn now.

“That is simply not a competitive wage for any kind of work these days,” says Beth Kowalczyk, the chief policy officer for the Ohio Association of Area Agencies on Aging. “[Home care workers] are the lowest paid sector of the long-term care space, so we're competing for workers.”

Without higher wages, Kowalczyk says the state will struggle to attract enough of the workers, even as demand for those jobs soars.

Ohio’s population is aging

Ohio’s population of people older than 60 is projected to grow four times faster than the rest of the state’s population in the next twenty years, according to data from the Ohio Department of Aging.

The portion of people older than 85 will increase too – by about 50 percent.

Kowalczyk says home care is one of the most appealing options for many of those people.

“Most people want to be at home and remain connected to their communities and their families,” she says. “Having home care can provide that support for things like personal hygiene, preparing food and assistance with medications.”

The Ohio Association of Area Agencies on Aging estimates 4,500 older adults in the state are already going without home care services because they’re not available..

That number could increase as more than 230,000 direct care jobs are expected to open in Ohio between now and 2030.

The cost of elderly care

If those positions aren’t filled, the state could pay.

Elderly care is often subsidized by Medicaid, which is funded by taxpayer dollars. And home care is much cheaper than care from nursing homes or other long-term care facilities.

The average cost of a nursing home is $6,000 per month. Home care costs a fraction of that – just $1,200 a month.

“There is a significant cost savings,” Kowalczyk says, “particularly to the state through the Medicaid program that pays for a lot of these programs.”

Even though higher wages would increase the cost of home care, it would still cost the state significantly less than supplementing other forms of care like nursing homes.

But without state help, home care wages won’t increase on their own. They’re largely dictated by Medicaid reimbursement rates, which are set during the state’s budget hearings.

“It's incumbent on us to advocate that the state look at the cost to serve,” Kowalczyk says. “If we don't do that, then we're not going to be able to provide services to people.”

Erin Gottsacker is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently reported for WXPR Public Radio in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.
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