Fountain, who lives in Richmond, Virginia, once owned a small business but was forced to close it to help care full-time for her bedridden father. The alternative was relying on a series of agency-managed home health aides, none of whom were given enough steady hours nor enough pay to keep them as consistent caregivers for her dad—or keep them in the homecare profession for long.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Fountain. “Some home health aides are working three or four jobs to make up a full-time check.”
Fountain was one of dozens of homecare workers who met with lawmakers July 13 to tell them about the crisis in care for seniors during the White House Conference on Aging. The conference is a once-a-decade meeting that brings together health providers, legislators and experts in geriatrics. This year’s conference marked the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid, as well as the 80th anniversary of Social Security. It also occurred as homecare workers like Fountain are joining the Fight for $15 movement, which calls for a $15 minimum wage and the right to join a union.
“It’s not just for the home health aide,” said Gladys Negbegble, a Maryland resident who works in DC, when the group met with the staff of Senator Ben Cardin. “It’s also a way to help the seniors, to keep them alive and in good health. “If we increase to $15, people will be able to stay in the profession and give good care.”
The views of Fountain and Negbegble are echoed by other experts in the field. “Unless home care workers receive higher pay, we won’t be able to meet the long-term care needs of either caregivers or our aging population,” said Caitlin Connolly, Home Care Fair Pay Campaign Coordinator at the National Employment Law Project. During the past year, Connolly and NELP have been working with DC homecare workers on a campaign for quality care, higher wages, better benefits and to ensure that homecare agencies obey the law. The campaign’s website is WeCareForDC.org.
The White House Conference on Aging maintains an online presence at: www.whitehouseconferenceonaging.gov