It’s Imperative for New York State to Invest in Home Health Care Workers

By Geri Pinciaro Mariano

On July 29, Hand in Hand, a domestic employers network, and the CUNY Graduate Center released “Essential but Under-valued: Understanding the Home Care Workforce Shortage in the Hudson Valley.” A number of Hudson Valley elected officials participated in the virtual press conference. 

Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the need for home care workers as deaths in New York nursing homes reached unfathomable numbers. And for all those who died in nursing homes, most died alone with no one by their side.

With state legislators holding hearings in the Senate and Assembly about these nursing home deaths, the time is now to learn what went wrong and what can be done better in the future. Attention must be paid to the need for home care workers for the elderly and those with disabilities wishing to live in their homes in their communities. 

I am one of the latter, a 52-year-old woman with congenital disabilities. Though given up by biological parents and left at White Plains Hospital in 1967, Westchester County Department of Social Service workers decided I should not be fated to live my life in an institution. A family was found and I grew up in and have remained a lifelong resident of the county, living in the Town of North Castle since 1972. Over the past 10 years and several surgeries gone awry, my days of independent living are long gone. I now receive home care assistance seven days a week. 

During this pandemic, especially the early weeks and most recently the power outage lasting days from Tropical Storm Isaias, my aides were heroic, showing up for every shift, making sure my needs were taken care of. Personally, I cannot imagine having been anywhere else than in the safety of my own home. 

Unfortunately, though, “my girls” and all home care workers are woefully underpaid with little to no benefits. With the looming state income shortfalls resulting from the economic shutdown, Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Programs (CDPAPs) are in the crosshairs of Gov. Cuomo’s desired Medicaid cuts.

With the devastating loss of life in nursing homes, these home care workers are more than essential; they are life savers for countless aging or disabled or immuno-compromised New Yorkers desperate to stay out of facilities. 

Here in the Hudson Valley, the average home care worker makes just $18,500 a year – while the cost of living hovers around $100,000. No surprise, then, that 24 percent of home care workers surveyed live in poverty, and 39 percent rely on Medicaid themselves. Every year, over 5,100 workers leave the occupation.

As New York’s baby boomers age, the job openings in care work keep multiplying – with no one to fill them. In the Hudson Valley, this sector will experience more growth than any other occupation by 2026.

The state must look to invest in the home care sector and these essential workers, extending fair pay and benefits, protecting key sources of state funding for home care companies and launching innovative pilot projects through the proposed Home Care Jobs Innovation Fund.

Right now, investing in home care work is a moral obligation – to the workers who do the caring and those they care for. Please call your state senator and Assembly representative and urge them to take on this issue. All of us, whether our loved ones or ourselves, have a stake in this life-and-death matter.

Armonk resident Geri Pinciaro Mariano is an inspirational speaker who raises awareness of and advocates for rights of people with disabilities.