Licensing, wage supports sought for home care

Boston Statehouse

Sen. James Welch, who co-sponsored a bill to increase funding and create a new licensing process for home health care agencies, said close to 100 percent of residents would prefer to receive medical care in their homes if possible. (Photo: Chris Lisinski/SHNS)

BOSTON (SHNS) – New licensing requirements and an increase in state funding for home care agencies would help both patients and workers in the state’s fastest-growing health care sector, lawmakers and industry leaders said Wednesday.

At-home caretakers, including health aides and homemakers, often earn less than their peers in nursing homes and hospitals, and they also face a gap in licensing standards. Bills filed by Rep. Daniel Cullinane and Sen. James Welch (H 605 / S 381) aim to place home care on an even playing field other care-giving professionals.

“If you haven’t confronted at-home health care already, you will,” Cullinane said at a Wednesday advocacy event. “It is how we are going to receive health care ourselves. It is how many of your loved ones are going to receive health care. It is so incredibly important, and that can’t be overstated.”

The bills contain two major components. One directs the Department of Public Health to establish a new licensing process for home care agencies, which 1199 SEIU Executive Vice President Tim Foley said would ensure that the agencies face the same processes and expectations as nursing homes and other similar agencies.

“It’s the fastest growing sector of our health care industry, and we need to provide some framework, oversight and regulation to understand what’s going on in this industry,” Foley said.

The second section calls for an additional $25 million in state funding to increase provider rates, most of which will then be passed into higher wages for workers. Agencies would be required to provide clear financial reporting to ensure that the boost in money goes toward employees.

“We’re continuing the fight to professionalize and make the home-care industry one we can be proud of here in Massachusetts,” Welch said.

Cale Bradford, chief government relations officer for the Elara Caring home care provider that co-hosted the event alongside SEIU, said the legislation would create a “solid foundation on which we can build a durable provider community that will be required to meet the increasing needs” of the state’s seniors and individuals with disabilities.

Both branches included about $10 million in rate adjustment funding for home health services in their fiscal year 2019 closeout budgets, which remain unresolved amid closed-door negotiations.

The growing home care sector has become a high-profile topic on Beacon Hill in recent years as the industry has expanded. Other lawmakers filed legislation that would direct the state to create a wage- and rate-setting process for home care workers.

Demand for health assistants that help patients at home is forecast to grow more than 45 percent between 2016 and 2026, according to the group Mass. Home Care.

SEIU unveiled results of a web and email survey that the union commissioned showing that about three-quarters of likely voters supported Cullinane and Welch’s proposed law once the details were described.

Data shows that industry workers lag behind their peers in compensation. Many earn minimum wage, an amount that speakers said is insufficient to support a family, and because agencies are not licensed in the same way that nursing homes are, there is less state oversight to ensure proper treatment of workers.

“What we have here is one of the fastest growing parts of our health care field, this incredibly important work, and for its importance, people are not being paid the wages that are reflective of how important the work is,” Cullinane said. “That’s really what this legislation gets towards in addition to the protections of licensure.”

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