As COVID-19 sweeps the country and threatens vulnerable senior populations who rely on home-based care, the stakes have never been higher for providers in the space.
A lot of that pressure falls on front-line, home-based care workers, whose jobs are more challenging — and more important — than ever in light of the pandemic.
Their efforts become increasingly noble when one considers the fact that caregivers could potentially be making more money by not working, thanks to lush new COVID-19 unemployment benefits.
In return, providers are coming up with creative new ways to reward caregivers braving the battlefield, from pay boosts to care packages and everything in between. Not only are the rewards well-deserved, but they’re also helping providers keep caregivers on the front lines where they’re desperately needed.
Anyone working in home-based care — from aides to agency owners — knows it’s not a space you enter to make big bucks, but one with more modest profit margins and pay rates that attracts mission-driven people.
With that mission in mind, Jim Robinson — CEO at Hackensack, New Jersey-based CareFinders Total Care — decided to roll out appreciation pay for all workers in light of COVID-19.
“It’s definitely going to be a financial hit for the company, but I don’t know if we could really go forward as the same company and not do something like this for our team,” Robinson told Home Health Care News. “It almost moves out of financial decision making into, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’”
CareFinders is a nonmedical home care agency that cares for more than 8,500 patients across New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Its bread and butter is Medicaid managed care, which yields some of the smallest margins industry-wide.
When COVID-19 first started to pick up in the Northeast back in early March, Robinson and his team approached the state Medicaid programs they work with about a proactive reimbursement increase to help increase caregiver pay.
He explained pay increases are important because caregivers are putting themselves in the line of fire, keeping the states’ most vulnerable populations safe at home and out of hospitals. On top of that, they may need more money to help coordinate child care and transportation in light of coronavirus-related closures.
State officials acknowledged Robinson’s concerns, but that has yet to translate into higher reimbursement rates. So in late March, Robinson decided to take matters into his own hands, enacting appreciation pay for all workers “for the foreseeable future.”
“There is no reimbursement backup for us on this,” he said. “We decided to do it proactively, not just to help out our home health aides, but also our administrative staff at the same time.”
While Robinson declined to share specifics, he explained that salaried employees received an additional lump sum on top of regular pay, while non-salaried workers saw an increase to their hourly pay rates.
CareFinders isn’t the only agency pushing through pay increases for workers. A number of Interim HealthCare franchises are doing the same, offering various hazard-pay incentives per visit or per hour worked, according to President and CEO Jennifer Sheets.
“While each Interim HealthCare franchise is independently owned and operated, we commend local owners for putting their caregivers and frontline employees first,” she told HHCN. “It’s in these moments that we come together, and my leadership team and I are so impressed and grateful for how our folks have risen to the challenge and are tackling COVID-19 head on.”
Still, she’s hoping to for some government help — much like Robinson requested — to make appreciation pay possible for all in-home care providers.
“I would love to see something like government-supplemented hazard pay for health care workers dealing with COVID-19,” Sheets said. “We need to incentivize people to be on the front line, especially in a pool that’s already prone to high turnover.”
Government-supplemented or out-of-pocket, such financial incentives can help keep caregivers in the workforce at a time when it’s more tempting than ever to stay home. Additionally, some providers are hoping pay boosts will also help attract workers.
Concordia Lutheran Ministries in Cabot, Pennsylvania, is giving all workers who make less than $75,000 an extra $25 per day in the form of an appreciation bonus, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently reported.
Concordia’s business has a home-based care arm, as well as assisted living and skilled nursing offerings.
“We haven’t lost a lot of people; we just need to bring in people to help right now,” spokesman Frank Skrip told the Post-Gazette. “There is a nursing and aide shortage everywhere. We’re looking for about 60 nurses in our system just to keep up with regular demand, let alone what we’re going through now.”
Other creative thank yous
Apart from financial incentives, care packages and other simple gestures can go a long way for agencies hoping to keep caregivers happy amid COVID-19.
For example, take Preferred Care Home Health Services, which provides home health and personal home care across the state of Florida.
CEO Christopher Melley set out to provide food and other essentials like toilet paper, according to the Fort Myers News-Press. In the end, he ended up donating care packages to more than 500 employees across Fort Myers and Naples.
“As many in our community stay home to ‘stay safe’ and prevent the transmission of this virus, each of you have admirably stepped up to the plate during this crisis,” Melley said in a letter to workers. “I’m sure that you’re well aware that the shelves at most local grocery stores are empty. The thought of you putting in a full days’ work of caring for others and putting their needs first, only to arrive at an empty grocery store on your way home is unconscionable in my eyes.”
Certain Interim franchise locations are also taking pages out of that book.
“One owner in Oklahoma is hosting weekly drive-thru breakfasts, to serve hearty meals to caregivers prior to their shifts,” Sheet told HHCN. “Some owners are delivering supplies and food directly to clinicians in the field. … An owner in our Ohio market hand delivers gift baskets with treats and balloons directly to caregivers so they receive a little additional encouragement while in the field.”
It seems the key to keeping caregivers happy and on staff during this difficult time, in Robinson’s view, is making them feel appreciated, no matter how small the gesture.
“It’s one thing to be grateful and share during times of plenty,” he said. “But it’s a whole other thing to actually share in times of need, and that’s when the most appreciation is [needed].”