Pat Broderick’s world contracted in unexpected ways when she moved into an assisted-living apartment in Middle Township two years ago.
“I hadn’t been shopping in a year — and I’m an inveterate shopper,” said Broderick, 88, who grew up in Queens, N.Y., before raising a family in Metuchen, Middlesex County. “I love sales. I love coupons.”
Broderick turned to South Jersey HomeCare, a company based in Ocean City, which assigned one of its home-health aides to help her around the home and run errands.
Now, Broderick makes regular outings with aide Brittani Gillice, 23, of Middle Township.
The two women recently went to lunch at a Northfield diner and shopped for picture hangers for Broderick’s wedding photos.
Providing in-home care is the fastest-growing job in America. Demand for these services will surge by 70 percent over the next decade, adding 1 million jobs to the nearly 2 million who work in this field already, according to federal projections.
This compares to 14 percent average growth projected for all occupations.
Home-health aides do everything from getting infirm or disabled people out of bed, washed and dressed in the morning to cooking, shopping and housekeeping for them.
“It takes a special kind of person to do this,” Gillice said. “You have to remember they have feelings, and they are somebody’s parents who have children and friends.”
Despite increasing demand, the average pay is comparatively low, especially considering the intimate physical and personal care involved. Worker advocates say this occupation has been overlooked for too long and are fighting for better benefits and earnings.
The National Domestic Workers Alliance, based in Washington, D.C., is calling for reforms for in-home care workers, who are not guaranteed the same kinds of overtime benefits or minimum wages as other occupations under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.
The law essentially treats these workers as baby sitters, who likewise are not eligible for the same benefits.
The U.S. Department of Labor is examining the issue now, alliance Director Ai-Jen Poo said.
“The job is very demanding, between the long hours and the low pay,” she said. “It can be extremely stressful and grueling work. We’re in a situation where the people we pay to care for our loved ones can’t afford to take care of their own families.”
Home-health aides earn an average pay of $9.70 per hour, or $20,000 per year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, although not all aides work full time.
Employers in South Jersey reported slightly higher starting salaries and earning potential of as much as $15 per hour, depending on experience. Some offer benefits packages that include health care and paid vacation.
Home-health aides must undergo 76 hours of training to be certified and licensed in New Jersey. Each client’s regimen of care must be supervised by a registered nurse.
Gillice said she works full time during the week and often picks up extra shifts on the weekends. But she sees the job as a stepping stone to another career in health care.
“I want to be a nurse,” Gillice said. “But this could be a lifelong job if you chose not to further your education.”
Local business owners said raising average salaries could make these services unaffordable for many clients. Some local companies set their pay rates based on the reimbursement they receive from Medicaid. Medicare typically does not cover these services.
“Most home care is private pay. But if the caregiver’s rates are going up, the rates we charge the seniors go up. Since they’re on a fixed income, that can pose a problem,” said Patty Laychock, of Marlton, owner of Visiting Angels in Egg Harbor Township.
Laychock and other owners say the job appeals to some workers because it requires no college education and offers a flexible schedule. And it has appeal beyond financial rewards.
“They become part of the family,” Laychock said. “Unfortunately, adult children have to work. They don’t have all the time they wish they had to care for their parents. I get letters all the time saying, ‘I don’t know what we would do without your angels.’”
Poo said more public attention is needed to speed reforms that will attract home health care workers who will be needed for decades to come.
“It should be a national priority in a way that it isn’t now,” she said. “There are real issues for families to afford the care they need. But that problem should not be solved on the backs of the work force that we count on to be strong and sustainable.”
Carol Hutchison, of Egg Harbor Township, owner of Karing with Kindness based in Linwood, agrees. She said the marketplace does not place the same value on in-home care as other personal-care occupations.
“We’ll go to a nail salon or hairdresser. We spend a lot of money frivolously. But when it comes time to take care of Mom or Dad, it’s just one of those things,” she said. “Reimbursement rates are low, which is why we have to keep the wages low. If we were reimbursed more, we could pay our aides more, which would make their lives easier.
“The low pay scale is the biggest pitfall of the job. But life isn’t always about money. They come away at the end of the day making a difference in someone’s life. That is priceless,” she said.
South Jersey Homecare CEO Paula Popilock, of Upper Township, said companies such as hers fill a critical need for disabled and older residents.
“We fill the spot for the family member who wants to be there but, for whatever reason, can’t,” she said. “We advocate as much for our caregivers as we do for our clients. We try to make the best matches.”
This type of care does not replace home nursing for clients who are sick or injured. For example, home-health aides are not permitted to administer medicines. But South Jersey Homecare’s Gillice reminds Broderick when it’s time for a pill, which she takes with orange soda.
“I don’t normally drink soda, but when I take my medicine, it helps it go right down,” she said.
Gillice, wearing bright nursing scrubs, took Broderick’s arm and helped her to the elevator to bring raspberry Danish pastry to her husband, Jim, who lives in a separate part of the complex for residents with conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
“They call it the memory ward, but they should call it the lost-memory ward,” Broderick said.
Gillice sat with the couple and laughed as Broderick told stories about their early courtship.
Broderick worked in a New York office before she married in 1942, in the midst of war. Jim Broderick was in the U.S. Army and shipped out to Italy after their wedding.
“We met ice-skating. I tell people we’ve been on thin ice ever since,” she said.
After the war, they settled in New Jersey, where he worked as a food chemist making new flavors. The couple raised three children and have four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Most people who work in this job are women. Men are only permitted by state law to care for other men.
Company owners said more businesses will crop up to offer in-home care services as demand increases.
“We’re so phenomenally business, it’s not funny. It’s an industry bursting at the seams,” said Kelly Marrero, 59, of Barnegat Township, owner of Comfort Keepers of Atlantic and Cape May Counties.
Marrero said people who want help for their parents, grandparents or spouses should ask lots of questions to make sure their loved ones will get the service and qualified care they deserve.
“The scary thing is not every company is scrupulous,” she said. “They may not be licensed or bonded and insured or operating under the direction of a registered nurse.”
The state has been cracking down on home-care agencies. An investigation by the state Division of Consumer Affairs prompted a Somers Point company, Infinity Healthcare LLC, to close last year after the state alleged employees were not certified as home-health aides.
The state said the company also failed to draft a care plan for its clients, an oversight the company blamed on its lax recordkeeping.
Comfort Keepers’ Marrero said her business model calls for aides to spend at least four hours per day in a client’s home to ensure each receives adequate attention, even if it is only for two days per week.
She said any stricter state oversight only will help her business to compete.
“The state is trying to make it harder and harder for us to do what we do. I say, ‘Bring it on,’ ” Marrero said.
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