Elder care crisis looming

  • State Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru addresses elder care issues at a policy breakfast held by LifePath in Greenfield, Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/JOSHUA SOLOMON

Staff Writer
Published: 4/12/2019 11:57:29 PM
Modified: 4/12/2019 11:57:18 PM

GREENFIELD — Studies point to an approaching crisis in 2030 when a national work shortage, coupled with aging Baby Boomers, will lead to a drastic shortfall in workers to take care of the country’s elderly. 

“In the current situation,” LifePath Case Manager Therese Fitzsimmons said, “there’s just not enough workers going around. The workers are being stretched very thin.”

Local elder-care providers pitched the desperate need to adequately fund, and at times reform, the current services for seniors in need, Friday morning at a policy breakfast held in LifePath. 

“I think most of us are here today because things aren’t necessarily working right now,” Fitzsimmons said. 

The concerns were heard by local elected officials, who attended the meeting in the middle of one of the busiest days of their year with budget bills due to Beacon Hill. 

“To hear them talking about their struggles about being underpaid,” state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru said, “it breaks your heart.” 

Mark said he often thinks of his “grammy” when working on issues of elder care. His grandmother is 93, he said, and staying in a nursing home after a few years of care with family. 

“This conversation isn’t just two hours in a morning,” he said, but noted it can be difficult to choose what to fund and for how much when making decisions for the state’s budget. 

State Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, and Elena Cohen, district director for state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton attended. 

Advocates pitched three specific needs for more money from the commonwealth: funding for housing and Meals on Wheels, along with fairer wages for home care workers. 

Bills that advocates pushed for at the meeting include: allow for intensive case management for clinically complex older adults by Aging Services Access Points (ASAPs); increase availability of home care services to middle-income elders who typically just miss the cut-off qualifications; and increase wages for home-care workers known as “Enough Pay to Stay.”   

“We’re having trouble recruiting, retaining workers because the rates are just too low,” Mass Home Care Executive Director Lisa Gurgone said. “This bill would look at that in a more systematic way.”

She said she is happy with the House’s budget that was released earlier this week. 

“We can always do better, but we’re very pleased,” Gurgone said.  

Jacob Waah, the owner and founder of Victory Home Healthcare, which services seniors in the Pioneer Valley including in Greenfield, said when he came to the states from his home country of Cameroon he wanted to bring his deep-rooted culture of caring for the elderly. 

“I saw the challenges we have daily,” Waah said, “But when we got into the business, I didn’t know the challenges we’d face.” 

He said a key concern is fairer wages to be able to retain employees, but that also means reimbursement rates for health-care businesses needs to be bumped up. 

Adia Johnston, who works at Victory Home Healthcare, shared her story of becoming pregnant her senior year of high school, looking to education for upward mobility, enrolling in Holyoke Community College, and eventually working her way toward becoming a registered nurse. 

Catherine Burnett, who works with Catholic Charities, told a story of her time working with an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s the best job in the world, she said. 

The question lingered through the breakfast though of how to employ enough staff and to retain them.

“It’s a challenging time, but we’re persevering,” LifePath Executive Director Barbara Bodzin said.

Peter Vearling, who cares for his wife, Judy who has Alzheimer’s, told the story of caring for his life partner. This past year they celebrated their 50th anniversary, but his wife’s Alzheimer’s has been life-changing for her. 

“The job you guys are doing, I can’t even tell you how important it is for us,” Vearling said. “It just eases the burden and makes you feel like you’re not alone.” 

You can reach Joshua Solomon at: jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264

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