Innovation, bonuses may help curb Michigan’s home health care shortage

Like home care agencies across the country, New York City’s Cooperative Home Care Associates faced a nagging challenge: How to hire and retain quality direct care workers?

Starting small in 1985, the agency has become a nationwide model for what experts nationwide say is a burgeoning crisis in home health workers. From an initial staff of 12 home health aides, it now employs more than 2,000. And unlike the vast majority of home care agencies, it’s employee-owned: Workers have the option of buying into the company.

Home health aide Valerie McBride-Johnson of Cooperative Home Care Associates assists client Kathryn Goldman, 89, in her apartment in Manhattan. McBride-Johnson’s employer is owned by workers and provides benefits not always seen among home health agencies, which advocates say may help curb attrition and worker shortages often common in eldercare.

Workers have comprehensive health care insurance and subsidies to pay for college courses and career advancement. The cooperative puts new workers through a four-week training program that is a rarity among home care agencies, funded through a combination of state and federal grants and philanthropic grants.

The cooperative guarantees experienced aides at least 30 hours of work at $15 an hour, plus benefits including a pension that are worth another $4 an hour. The result: A loyal workforce, with an annual attrition rate of about 18% to 24%, far below the industry standard of 82%.

More:Aging Michigan faces critical shortage in home health care workers

“Building support is right at the core for recruiting and retaining workers,” said Adria Powell, president and CEO of Cooperative Home Care Associates. “We’ve got to build a quality job for workers to be able to build quality care.”

The cooperative, though, remains much more the exception than the rule, as agencies heavily reliant on Medicaid funding struggle to retain workers for jobs that typically pay $12 to $15 an hour.

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