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PHI leads Wisconsin Discussion on Rural Home Care

October 5, 2017

PHI leads Wisconsin Discussion on Rural Home CareOn September 21, I attended the Wisconsin Personal Services Association’s Fall Workforce Conference, along with my colleague, Stephen Campbell. Every year, the Wisconsin Personal Services Association (WPSA) brings together statewide providers and partners committed to excellence in community-based personal and supportive services through education, advocacy, and collaboration. Their two-day fall conference convened providers and policy makers to discuss workforce issues facing the state’s long-term care sector.

PHI’s Stephen Campbell kicked off the conference by facilitating a panel discussion on his new research of the home care delivery system and workforce needs in Wisconsin’s largely rural communities.  The panel included Patti Jo Becker, the Manager of Community Partnerships at TMG; Dr. Barbara Bowers, the Associate Dean for Research at the University of Wisconsin Department of Nursing; and Todd Costello, the Executive Director of Community Living Alliance.

On the minds of many participants was the severe recruitment challenges being experienced across the state. Participants expressed fears that the already tight labor market and workforce shortage will be exacerbated by recent announcements from Foxconn and Amazon that they will bring thousands of new jobs to the state.  Employers such as Foxconn, Amazon, and QuikTrip were cited as examples of employer competitors that can offer more attractive salaries and benefits to entry-level workers. This makes it difficult for providers of personal care services to attract and retain the caregivers needed to meet the needs of the state’s growing older adult population.

Additionally, while many Wisconsin providers are commending an increase in the state’s personal care reimbursement rates in the governor’s –recent budget, many participants noted that the modest 2 percent increase is the first increase in 11 years and well below the 15 percent increase many providers believe is needed to keep up with inflation.  As a result, participants shared that this increase will likely not result in higher wages for workers, and instead be reabsorbed into overhead costs.

Considering these challenges, panelists discussed the importance of promoting personal care work and to seek out candidates looking for a sense of purpose in their jobs. Personal care work also offers a unique level of flexibility and autonomy that appeals to many workers, especially older adults and those with young children . Panelists discussed the value of promoting these benefits while working to provide more reliable hours, stable schedules, and consistent client assignments to further improve the quality of jobs for direct care workers.

Panelists discussed the opportunities in better leveraging the capacity of personal care aides (PCAs), specifically the unique position these workers are in to observe, record, and report on the needs of clients (and changes in their health). High quality training and education for personal care aides are key to maximizing this role, however many participants noted that the state’s training requirements for these aides are inadequate. Providers are currently expected to provide the required, minimal training to their workers but are not reimbursed for this training. Rural providers find it particularly challenging to provide training to a highly-decentralized workforce.

In addition to enhancing the quality and accessibility of entry-level training for workers, panelists advocated for providing ongoing training and education throughout the personal care aide’s career. They noted how education is often used to address deficiencies in workers, yet rarely as a way to develop high-performing PCAs in their interest areas or strengths. Training improvements were viewed as crucial to maximizing the capacity of the workforce, and improving worker satisfaction and fulfillment.

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