Since the pandemic, the scenario has only gotten worse as the Great Resignation prompted caregivers to reconsider their pay, working environment, job benefits, consistent hours and path for advancement. More virtual work opportunities in other fields are also available now, giving workers in rural communities new employment options.
“It’s thousands of people, thousands of workers we need to take from somewhere else,” says Mauer. “From McDonald’s, call centers, restaurants. We’re going to have to bring workers from somewhere else into jobs. What will it take? What will we need to pay people to leave a job at Target?”
To Kristin Dahlquist, owner of Home Instead in South Denver and Littleton, the culture around caregiving needs to change to support the families in need. “There is a need to elevate the profession, which demands the attention of every home agency. We need to make sure we are treating them well, offering an attractive job with high starting wages, benefits, 401(k), bonus structures and professional development.”
But Kavulich doesn’t think “throwing money at the problem” is the answer. “There’s an agency offering a $30,000 signing bonus here,” in Pennsylvania, he says, “and, despite offering bonuses, they are still struggling with recruitment. It’s a good agency, but they’re suffering like everyone else.” Instead, broader recruiting, training and retention approaches in every state are necessary to build a workforce with pipelines connecting development experts, training providers, educational institutions and community-based organizations. Kavulich hopes that two pilot programs in Lackawanna County — one offering reimbursement for college tuition to health care students working as caregivers and one involving consumer reimbursement for personally hired caregivers — will make a difference. “These might stem our bleed,” he says.
Sawyer-Manter says Maine has a “number of new initiatives” aimed at trying to make the jobs more attractive, including career ladders for advancement, opportunities to specialize in forms of care including Alzheimer’s and dementia, and alternately mixing up the clients so caregivers work with different populations in need of care. “Years ago, I heard that people would go to career centers and say they want to be a direct care worker and would be told that’s a dead-end job. How do we make it a job that is highly valued?”