Health aide shortage affects patients, providers

Ian Otbot of Wellsboro requires home nursing care, but lack of staff leaves him without care.

There is a national shortage of in-home health care aides, and some local residents are feeling that in a very personal way.

Ian Otbot of Wellsboro, age 5, has mitochondrial disease, a genetic disorder that requires him to use a feeding tube and be provided with other assistance.

“There are only two pediatric nursing agencies that take state insurance,” said mom Jodi Otbot. “We use Bayada. Ian’s nurses must be RNs or LPNs, not CNAs.”

The problem?

“We get ‘no call, no show’ all the time,” said Otbot. “They just don’t show up.

“Our insurance qualifies us for 166 hours of nursing coverage a week, spread over seven days,” she said. “We average 38 hours of coverage a week.”

Otbot cares for Ian when a nurse doesn’t come for her shift.

“I’ve learned to do everything,” she said. “Along with the unreliability of the nurses, I’ve also run across some under qualified ones. I had a nurse wake me up in the middle of the night to ask me how to change a feeding tube.”

Due to his medical needs, Ian is not allowed to attend daycare without a nurse.

“When they don’t show up, he can’t go,” Otbot said.

Otbot does not blame the agency for the lack of qualified employees.

“Bayada really is trying,” she said “I have a good relationship with our case manager and nurse manager. They just can’t find and keep good employees.”

Bayada did not respond to a request for comment.

The problem is much the same at the other end of the spectrum — in-home care for adults.

According to a September 2021 report by National Public Radio, there are 54 million Americans who are 65 and over. There are two million home health aides.

Angela Davies, who manages the Galeton and Blossburg locations of Age in Place, agrees that’s it’s difficult to find good employees.

“I have been in this industry for over 10 years and over time I have noticed that people are not interested in caring for other people,” she said.

The average hourly wage for a home health aide in Pennsylvania is $10/hour. Although Davies’ locations pay more than that, she acknowledges that salary is a problem.

“The way we get reimbursed for most of our clients is from the state,” she said. “Until they raise reimbursement, we’re not able to raise our pay rate.”

Davies also notices a shift in attitude.

“I feel the pandemic has scared a few people,” she said. “Others are now staying home with children or getting better paying jobs.

“We also see a lot of people come and go that lack work ethic and have extremely poor attendance. I have a lot of staff that work just enough to get free child care but won’t work full time or they will lose assistance.”

“It’s time to stop treating home health care like the fast food of health care,” said Otbot. “Clients deserve better.”

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