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Families in Central Pa. struggle to find personal caregivers amid nationwide shortage

Some organizations say the shortage has been a reality for many years but has only now become a noticeable problem since the start of the pandemic.

YORK, Pa. — Noah Spaulding was supposed to move into Messiah University last fall, however, plans fell through when he couldn’t find a caregiver. So, he’s been living with his parents. 

"I've been remote at Messiah the whole time I’ve been here," he said. 

Noah has Cerebral Palsy and requires an aide. He and his family have been looking for help for almost a year. 

“It was very frustrating, very grinding. It took a toll on me, actually," Spaulding said. 

However, last week he was able to secure help. 

“I have two caregivers that are going to be helping me out, for 12 hours each. So, they’ll swap shifts," said Spaulding.

Not everyone has been lucky in finding help though. Some organizations say the shortage has been a reality for many years, but has only now become a noticeable problem since the start of the pandemic. They believe this job has always been overlooked. 

“People look at healthcare, they look at nurses and doctors, as a vital workforce. This workforce is just as vital, and I don’t think we give it enough attention. We need to invest in this workforce, just as we would our hospital, our nurses, and our doctors," said Shona Eakin, the Chief Executive Officer at Voices for Independence and TRPIL

 Noah says he’s grateful that he never gave up. 

“College is one of the greatest things that could ever happen to me. For me to be on campus… I’m a person that wants to form connections with people," he said. 

The Department of Human Services provided FOX43 with a statement saying:

The Department of Human Services used American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to provide $38.5 million to Strengthen the Workforce. Providers were allocated funding based on the unit of services provided in a certain period of time. In order to claim the payment, the home and community-based provider, including home care agencies and home health agencies, needed to attest they would use these funds on their workforce (uses are detailed in the letter linked above). DHS is still receiving attestations and sending out these funds to strengthen the direct care workforce. In addition, home care agencies and home health agencies providing personal assistance services were appropriated an additional $59.9 million in ARPA funding by Act 54 of 2022. This funding will be allocated based on the home care agency or home health agency’s Medical Assistance (fee-for-service and Community HealthChoices) units of service provided in the 3rd quarter of 2021. These funds can be used for COVID-19-related expenses, which can include staff recruitment or retention expenses. More information on this funding will be released by DHS in the coming weeks.

We know, though, that this is only a first step, and future investments are needed to ensure this essential workforce remains a sustainable and attractive field for people seeking to work in a caring profession. The Wolf Administration and DHS are committed to doing what we can to support this workforce and people who require services by investing where we can in this field and the caring industry more broadly. It’s important to understand that these challenges, while severely exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and economic and workforce instability, are not new. Additionally, they are not limited to direct care and are something the entire human services industry is experiencing.

Since 2015, the Wolf Administration has worked across multiple agencies to consider options and potential interventions and solutions to address the direct care crisis. In 2019, Pennsylvania’s Long-Term Care Council released a blueprint to strengthen this essential workforce, including a pathway from wages that had been stagnant at $10-11/hour to a living wage, professionalizing the field with professional development and growth opportunities, and establishing better worker supports. We are making progress on these goals, but the turmoil of the pandemic has shown how greater investment in essential systems are needed.

The American Rescue Plan Act gave Pennsylvania the opportunity to make a substantial investment in this field and the people who make up this critical infrastructure. However, absent a sustained commitment that recognizes the urgency of this moment, direct care workers and other caring professionals will not be able to afford this career path and providers will find themselves operating in the same delicate balance. All work has value, but we must recognize the inherent obligation we, as a society, have for caring for others. This industry is a catalyst for all other sectors of our economy and we are responsible for setting a sustainable path forward for these essential services and the people who do this work every day.

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