Professionalizing the Field of Direct Care with House Memorial 37 Task Force
Frances Vescoso, a resident of Las Cruces, has been called a mother who truly feels that she will need to live another 67 years so she can take care of her son, one who was brain damaged at birth and who functions today at the level of a four or five year-old. Frances is worried that no one else will be able to competently care for her son when she is gone. For this reason, Frances called state Representative Jeff Steinborn in early 2009 and asked that he sponsor a memorial to address her concern.
As a result, the House Memorial 37 Task Force (“Task Force”) was created during the 2009 Regular Session of the New Mexico legislature. The memorial requests a study to plan and implement a training and education program leading to credentialing of individuals who work as direct caregivers for individuals with disabilities and with elderly New Mexicans.
The topic is especially timely for New Mexico for several reasons, including predicted workforce shortages in health care and other fields, significant increases in the elderly population in the state, and an increased focus on consumer choice and home and community-based care.
Average wages for caregivers in the state of New Mexico are much lower for people in these occupations than for other occupations. In New Mexico, a home health aid worker earns approximately $8.00 per hour, $7.53 per hour less than that of an average New Mexico worker. While average hourly wages for direct caregivers increased ten percent from $6.62 (1999), these are wages at 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Level!
Occupational growth in the field of direct care is rapidly increasing. Personal and home health aides are the second fastest-growing occupation, both nationally and in New Mexico. The U.S. Department of Labor reports 21,520 New Mexicans were working as nursing assistants, home health aides or personal care/home care aides in 2006. Projected annual job openings for these occupations predict 6,190 additional job openings–an increase of 58 percent between 2006 and 2016!
High job turnover in the field of direct care occurs as a result of worker shortages, low wages, few to no benefits, little training and little recognition for the work performed. Persons who are elderly and disabled suffer the effects of direct care worker shortages and high turnover. The quality of care is compromised since employers are unable to meet the need for high-quality services to elders and people with disabilities. Read the full report here.