The biggest challenge I faced in caring for my mother in her final years was finding a live-in aide who was trustworthy, compassionate and compatible with my mom. Oh, yes, and affordable.
I met a few women who had solid experience as live-in aides but lacked warmth. I met a few others who were quite caring but clueless. And I met one or two who seemed kind of perfect but wanted too much money.
I employed nearly a dozen live-in aides over the course of two years – some who worked for agencies, some of whom I hired directly – but I’m not sure I ever found the right fit for my mom. In retrospect, the reason for this is quite simple: 1.) The job of working as a live-in aide is extremely difficult; and 2.) There aren’t enough men or women (mostly women) who are both willing and available to do the work.
Consider the statistics in a report that consulting firm Mercer released last month, as reported by Home Health Care News. The number of new job openings for home-care aides is projected to grow by a third to 423,000 by 2025. And because the number of elderly Americans in need of home-care services also is growing rapidly, Mercer forecasts a huge shortage of aides. How huge? Nearly 450,000 by 2025.
The shortage will be worse in some parts of the country than in others. Indeed, a number of Midwestern states are seen as having a surplus of home-care aides. But not New Jersey. The Garden State is among about 10 states, including New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, forecast to have the most severe shortages.
The situation isn’t all that hard to grasp once you understand the reality of working as a home-care aide – particularly those who are hired to live with the client. Live-in aides like the women who took care of my mother spend weeks at a time isolated from their friends and family, typically taking a few days off a month. They have to be on guard 24/7 in case the client falls or wanders off. And if the client suffers from dementia, as my mother did, the aide may be summoned at any hour of the day or night for no apparent reason.
New Jersey Monthly magazine recently assigned a reporter to shine a light on the largely hidden world of home-care aides. The article, "Home Health Aides Are a Vital Force for New Jersey’s Most Vulnerable," captures the difficult challenges home-care workers face – and the dedication many of them bring to the job.
“Aides sleep in back rooms and on sofas, lightly, in case their charge wakes up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom,” wrote author Tina Kelley. “Sometimes they don’t get any rest at all.”
Some of the aides interviewed for the article said their clients treated them poorly. “Some clients … are overtly racist; other clients and their families treat the aides as though they don’t exist.”
My business partner, Donna, and I experienced this first hand with one of our earliest clients at Twin Lights Home Care. Several aides who took care of the client, a woman in her 80s, complained about being ignored or belittled whenever the woman’s grown sons came to visit. Complicating the situation was the fact that the men had a strained relationship with their mother.
Despite the hardships, most home-care aides earn low wages. How low? According to New Jersey Monthly, the average is just $23,000 a year.
My experience has taught me that a trustworthy, thoughtful, compassionate home-care aide is worth her weight in gold. That’s why my partner and I do all we can to show our respect and appreciation for the aides who serve our clients – from providing living wages to scheduling relief when they need it, to doing little extras like giving them bonuses at Christmas and on their birthdays.
If you need to hire a home-care aide and want the assistance of an agency, be sure to ask them a few important questions up front:
The other option is to hire an aide directly. But as the above-cited statistics make clear, that’s becoming increasingly difficult to manage. If you do find an aide you like, my advice is simple: Treat her with kindness, dignity and respect. You’ll get all that, and more, in return.
Written by T.J. Foderaro