I-775 will keep seniors, others at home

Lars Hennum

What happens when you are no longer able to take care of yourself?

This is a question that faces many elderly Washingtonians and their family members every day. As we age, many of us will need help to get out of bed, to dress and bathe ourselves. We’ll need help with cooking, cleaning, and help remembering to take medicines.

Tens of thousands of Washington seniors and people with disabilities are able to stay in their own homes because they receive in-home care. Caregivers come into their homes every day and help them with daily living. Home care gives these citizens the ability to live with dignity and independence in their own homes — rather than a nursing home.

One senior activist said it best, "We have a burning emotional need to stay in the dwelling where we know every creaking floorboard … how the kitchen stove works…every lump in the mattress we sleep on at night."

But the home care program is facing a significant crisis — and unless we act now, thousands of Washington families will soon be unable to find qualified caregivers for their elderly or disabled residents, and will face the difficult choice of institutionalizing them.

That is why we need I-775 — to make it easier for seniors and their family members to find qualified caregivers, address the growing need for quality home care, and introduce real standards and accountability into the homecare program.

We must make it easier to find qualified caregivers.

More and more seniors are reporting difficulty in finding qualified and trained caregivers. Because there is no statewide registry or referral list, most consumers have to resort to newspaper ads, or word-of-mouth, to find a home care worker.

I-775 will establish a caregiver registry that will list qualified and trained caregivers. Consumers will — for the first time — have a place to call to get referrals in their area, and to find out more about prospective caregivers.

We must increase accountability and set real quality standards.

Low standards, inadequate training, and lack of accountability to consumers or taxpayers are threatening the quality of care in the home care program today. For example, some home care workers are not required to have any training before they begin caring for a client — and many go months without receiving any training.

Our elderly and disabled citizens deserve better. I-775 will make the state’s home care program more accountable to both consumers and taxpayers. It requires a performance audit every two year, and it empowers a consumer board of seniors and people with disabilities to set quality standards and improve training.

We must address the growing need for quality home care.

As Washington’s population ages, and seniors live longer, the need for home care is expected to grow significantly. A University of Washington study released earlier this month estimates that the number of seniors and people with disabilities seeking home care services will double over the next decade — from 23,000 today to 40,000. The study suggests that unless we act now, we could be facing a significant shortage of caregivers, and waiting lists of four to seven months within the next couple decades. And the alternative — institutionalizing our family members — comes with a high human and financial costs. Nursing homes cost three to four times more than in-home care.

Home care workers earn under $8 per hour, with no benefits like vacations, sick days, pensions, or even workers compensation. Turnover is extremely high — many consumers say they can’t keep a caregiver for more than six months. How can we recruit thousands of new qualified caregivers if people can make more money working for McDonalds?

I-775 will help recruit more workers and reduce turnover by giving caregivers the ability to negotiate for higher wages and benefits.

Let’s act now to improve home care — please vote yes on I-775.

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