Susan Heinle

Susan Heinle, CEO of Visiting Angels York

At age 90, Russell Myers does 15 push-ups a day.

The York World War II veteran exercises at home under the watchful eye of his home care worker, who also makes sure he eats right, has clean clothes and gets to places he needs and wants to be.

Having a home care worker allows Myers to live at home, something he does not take for granted. “It means one word: freedom,” he says.

He is fortunate. Some seniors and people with disabilities, including many veterans, who want to stay at home have a difficult time doing so due to a shortage of home care workers in the state. Fortunately, there is a way to fix the problem. Lawmakers should increase the Medicaid rate for home care in the 2019-20 state budget, allowing agencies such as mine — Visiting Angels York — to boost wages for our workers.

This is a critical issue for Pennsylvania. Five years ago, home care agencies worried only about losing workers to other agencies, but today we are competing against Amazon, other retailers and the fast-food industry. In fact, agencies regularly see a 70% employee turnover. We need to ask ourselves: How can we provide crucial care for our loved ones if agencies can’t attract and retain enough home care workers?

Myers is one of nearly 70,000 seniors and people with disabilities who count on home care workers to stay in their homes and receive care instead of going into a nursing home. Most people want to live near family and friends in their community.

The Pennsylvania Legislature has not passed a Medicaid rate increase for home care in five years. Yet in that time, costs have gone up for agencies. We are paying for mandated criminal background checks that have increased from $8 to $22 in one year, compliance fees, workers compensation coverage and more.

Because of the added costs, we cannot increase home care worker wages, which now average $11 an hour. The call for a Medicaid rate increase is happening at a time when the need for home care is growing quickly. The commonwealth ranks fourth in the nation in terms of the number of older adults, and studies show 70% of Pennsylvanians will need assistance as they age.

Lawmakers understand that home care is what their constituents want and deserve. Another reason they should support an increase is that home care saves the state money. The cost of home care per month is $4,195, compared to $10,114 for a nursing home.

And home care workers provide four to 20 hours of care a day per client, while nursing homes are required to provide only 2.7 hours of direct personal care per day.

I can tell you from my own experience that home care workers are incredibly dedicated, and many get into this profession because they want to help people. According to a survey taken earlier this year by the Pennsylvania Homecare Association, most workers said they love their jobs, but they need to earn higher wages to stay in the profession.

This issue is something we in Pennsylvania and we as a nation must address. Nationally, more than 60% of home care agencies turn down cases because of a lack of staff, according to a survey by myCNAjobs.com, the nation’s largest professional caregiver network. Nearly 75% of agencies say they could hire at least five additional people a month to meet client demand, according to the survey.

Myers, who spoke weeks ago at a rally where hundreds of supporters were calling for the Medicaid rate increase, does not like thinking about the possibility of leaving his home at age 90 to live in a nursing home.

Don’t veterans like him — considering the sacrifice and service they gave to this country — deserve the freedom to decide where they spend their latter years?

Home is where people deserve to be, and that is why lawmakers should listen to people from their districts.

I urge state lawmakers to increase the Medicaid rate for home care. Show your constituents you care. They know, as we all do, that there is no place like home.

Susan Heinle, R.N., is the president and CEO of Visiting Angels York.