Caregiver compensation could look different a year or two from now, thanks to a push from the federal government to fund home-based care and invest in its workforce.
But for now, the home-based care industry remains filled with a lot of underpaid workers, many of whom have particularly struggled during the COVID-19 crisis.
For starters, in-home caregivers have been infected by the COVID-19 virus two times more often than the general population. That’s according to a recent survey of 6,481 caregivers conducted by Medflyt, a New York City-based home care technology platform.
Of the caregivers surveyed, 20% said they had personally battled COVID-19. In comparison, a Stanford School of Medicine study previously found that roughly one in 10 Americans had COVID-19 antibodies, though other research has placed that figure closer to 15%.
The higher rate of illness is due to a variety of factors, but the most obvious one is caregivers’ inability to self-isolate.
There are others as well that have to do with working in home care, Al Cardillo, the president and CEO of the Home Care Association of New York State (HCA-NYS), said.
“Individuals who were working in the general economy, many were working remotely in their own homes,” Cardillo said during a Tuesday webinar hosted by Medflyt. “What’s inherent in working in this field is movement. It’s movement from one location to the other, and to the home of the patient. That involves a different kind of human exposure than if you’re in a different kind of a job in [health care].”
While the rest of the country has adapted to working from home, caregivers have met rising demand out in the field.
And though vaccines have seemingly become increasingly available since the turn of the year, just 23% of caregivers said they were vaccinated in early March, despite only 4% being unwilling to take the vaccine, according to the Medflyt survey.
That’s juxtaposed with the patient population they’re caring for. Of the caregivers polled, 20% said all of their patients had been vaccinated, 35% said most of them had, and 44% said none of them had.
“This again is due to the uniqueness of the home care field,” Cardillo said. “So within home care, it’s distinct from what happens at a congregate level, where you have individuals that are fanning out, traveling to the homes of patients.”
For the same reasons that home care agencies sometimes have troubles scheduling their staff, caregivers are having trouble finding vaccine appointments.
“There were very limited sites where home care workers could get vaccinated as a high-priority group,” Cardillo added. “And even as things were opened up for broader vaccination, home care workers at work still had to go to those sites.”
Working during and after COVID-19
Despite the industry growing, more than four out of every 10 caregivers actually reported working less during the COVID-19 emergency.
Nearly 13% of the surveyed caregivers said they stopped working altogether, with 18% working slightly less than usual and 10% working much less. In contrast, 40% of surveyed caregivers said they worked as usual, with 11% working much more and 8% working slightly more.
That could be the case for a lot of reasons, including raised unemployment benefits and patients’ refusal of service.
The Medflyt survey also suggests that President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan, which would set aside $400 billion for home-based care and workforce investments, is much needed.
Of the caregivers who worked throughout the pandemic, over 83% did not receive any additional pay or benefits. Only 3% received a raise and additional benefits, while 6% received just a raise and 8% received just additional benefits.
“This is really critical, and we as an association … are appealing to Congress to provide funds for wage enhancement that these workers needed and so deserved during the course of the pandemic,” Cardillo said. “We think that this [plan] is very compelling. We also think that the heroic work of these individuals has really been on greater public display.”