Because of coronavirus, more seniors want in-home care: But where are the caregivers?

A shortage of home health aids is unable to meet growing demand

Coronavirus cases and deaths continue to sweep long-term care facilities, and as a result, more seniors are opting for in-home care where living assistance and home helper services can be met in a fully controlled and comfortable environment.

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“There had already been an industry-wide shortage of caregivers,” President and CEO of Always Best Care Jake Brown told FOX Business. “The coronavirus has only exacerbated that issue.”

Prior to the pandemic, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that there would be 7.8 million direct care job openings from 2016 to 2026 and that the direct care workforce would grow more than any single occupation in the country.

Now, more people are interested in staying in their home and avoiding public facilities, which has driven the demand for in-home caregivers, according to Brown. Always Best Care, one of the leading providers of in-home care in the United States, reported that several of its franchise owners have seen a 16 percent to 25 percent increase in business since March when COVID-19 reached the United States. At the same time, the number of caregivers continues to shrink, which is making it hard to meet the growing demand.

Even before the pandemic, more seniors wanted to age in place. While the U.S. population lives longer and grows older, more people will require support to continue living independently in their homes and communities, according to the PHI, one of the leading authorities on direct care jobs.

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For many families, home health care is a favorable choice that serves as a safe and affordable solution to reducing the time seniors have to spend in an acute setting like a hospital or nursing facility.

As more seniors move to in-home care to avoid the breeding grounds of coronavirus that are most public facilities, more caregivers are conversely choosing not to work in fear of contracting the virus.

In addition to the heightened risk that confronts the workforce, federal unemployment benefits have offered a lucrative deal only to further distress the recruiting and retention rate of employees.

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“To a certain extent the caregivers have opted not to work during this pandemic because it's more lucrative to collect unemployment,” Brown said. “Prior to March 2020, Always Best Care franchises were able to recruit and retain caregivers more successfully, as the state unemployment benefits were not sufficient plus there was a level of difficulty to receive those benefits, as an employee had to justify cause.”

The financial gain and ease to which workers can claim benefits has propelled caregivers to file claims and register as unemployed rather than continue working in a sector where maintaining high job quality is a challenge, according to Always Best Care.

And the money a caregiver can earn is limited. The median wage for home care workers is $11.52 an hour, in addition to the frequency of part-time scheduling, with nearly two of five home caregivers working fewer than 35 hours a week, according to the PHI. Because of the $600 bonus provided by the CARES Act, unemployment insurance benefits provided more money than working for an hourly wage.

"We have already had a focus on how to recruit more workers because that's the challenge of the industry," Always Best Care's Jake Brown said. "And the pandemic has heightened that awareness, and we will continue to work with our franchise owners to implement and execute what they can do to be more successful."

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