A home health care worker from Washington testified before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging Wednesday morning on the problems he and his colleagues face when it comes to caring for elderly or disabled individuals in rural areas.
Francis Adams, a former steelworker who became a home health care aide after caring for a grandfather with black lung disease, told Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and other senators that distance and mobility issues his clients experience sometimes leave them without a way to get vital supplies.
“Washington, Pa., isn’t like Washington, D.C.,” Adams testified. “It’s a rural area. We can’t cross the street to get to the grocery store.”
Adams also told senators home health care workers should receive a pay raise, belong to unions and get health care coverage. A 70 year-old, he receives a pension from his steelworking job, but it is “not what was promised,” Adams said. He also works a second job in the retail sector.
“I need this job,” he said. If it offered better pay, he noted, “I wouldn’t have to take on other work. ... Many home care workers don’t have affordable health care and go years without seeing a doctor. More than half of us rely on public assistance. We’re unable to meet our basic needs.”
Adams is part of what is expected to be one of the fastest-growing jobs in the country. About 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day, and as baby boomers slip into senescence, the need for home health care workers is expected to escalate.
There is currently only one home care worker for every eight people who want to stay in their homes as they age. It’s estimated 1 million more home care workers will be needed by 2028 to keep up with the demand. When asked, most seniors would prefer to stay in their homes as they age, panelists noted, rather than going to a nursing facility.
Adams and other panelists testified the work is physically demanding, not well-compensated and is frequently incorrectly perceived as being unskilled labor.
“Your story is a painful story about the work you had to do to transition from being a steelworker,” Casey told Adams. “It’s a disturbing story for the country. We’re not anywhere close to meeting our obligations to rural seniors.”
Casey has introduced legislation that would send federal money to the states to raise wages and increase the training of home health workers, boost employment opportunities for people with disabilities and provide access to transportation. He noted rural populations are “more likely to be older, to be sicker and less well-off” than residents of suburban or urban communities.
“There are millions of people who have challenges that exceed the challenges in urban communities,” Casey said.