By Brittany Bernstein
Twelve home health aides cycle in and out of Angela Pittala’s Medford, NY apartment in any given week. Their shifts, timesheets and time-off requests are all managed by Pittala herself, which can be like a full-time job. Pittala, whose Cerebral Palsy leaves her confined to a wheelchair, hires her aides through the Consumer Directed Personal Assistant Program, a program that enables those in need of home health care to hire and fire their own help– including their own family and friends.
The CDPAP program can be a solution for people who require home health care, in a time when the industry is growing so rapidly that agencies can’t keep up. The need for home health aides is expected to grow 40 percent by 2026.
“Unfortunately there’s definitely a major crunch right now,” Matt Hetterich, corporate director of business development for Utopia Home Care, said. “There’s just not enough aides to go around for different agencies. We could hire a 100 home health aides tomorrow and that’s still not enough.”
The growth is being driven by what is being called the “graying of America.” Each day until 2036, approximately 10,000 people will turn 65.
“As the Baby Boomer generation continues to get old and [lifespan] longevity continues to increase, people are able to live longer,” Hetterich said. “Unfortunately as some people live longer, they’re also sicker.”
Unlike with hospitals or nursing homes, which have a finite number of beds that can be filled, home health care is limitless and is a cost-effective way to spend time at home while still receiving proper care, Hetterich said.
Home health aides employed directly through agencies are different than aides who are hired through CDPAP in that they must go through training to become certified, are assigned to cases by their agency and are limited to only performing certain tasks that they are trained in. Aides who are hired through CDPAP, however, can be trained by their “consumer” (the person who requires assistance) to perform more specialized tasks like applying bandages and administering medications.
Pittala’s aides enable her to live alone, but she requires 24-hour care, which is too many hours to receive through one agency. Because of this, she has six home health aides who are paid by Recco Home Health Care and six aides who are paid through Independent Support Services, an agency that pays its aides to not just care for consumers, but also to work on reaching various goals with them, which can include anything from being able to fold laundry to going out in public more often.
Though CDPAP enables consumers to employ their friends and family, all of Pittala’s current staff members are strangers that she has found through either word of mouth or by posting ads on Craigslist or a Facebook group called CDPAP Networking Long Island. It can be difficult to find and keep good, quality aides, Pittala said.
The CDPAP Networking Long Island group was born out of a similar frustration. The founder and administrator of the group, Colleen Kramps Wolcott, created the group, which now has 1,140 members, as a way to match CDPAP consumers with aides who were looking for work.
“I was tired of looking for assistants through Craig’s List, hoping whoever answered my ad would be knowledgeable or willing to sign up with an agency,” she said. “Knowing agencies are not allowed to refer or solicit, I decided to do so myself.”
Many members of the CDPAP Networking group have expressed that it can be difficult to find aides who are willing to travel to the North Shore of the island, Kramps Wolcott said, but Pittala added that it can be difficult to find aides to come to the South Shore, or just to find aides at all.
“Finding aides has always been a challenge for me because I don’t have a large number of people to pick from,” she said. “You are left to rely on the internet most of the time and sometimes you are lucky to land a good one. But sometimes people will come to show up for an interview and then not show up for work and you are left stranded to fend for yourself. And if you don’t have family nearby to help you this is a really big issue.”
This may be a result of the low pay rate which, at $13.60 an hour, is comparable to that of a McDonald’s manager, Pittala said. The wages that Pittala’s aides are paid are actually higher than both the state and country average, which sits at $11.30 per hour. Though New York State has the largest number of home health aides in the country– 173,830– it does not have one of the highest pay rates, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. New York’s median salary for a home health aide is less than that of most of the Northeast, including Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
Though she has been working with Angela for six years, Jaclyn Pittala (who is not related to Angela), agrees that the pay rate should be higher, but also added that she loves her job.
“I get paid to help people,” she said. “What’s better than that?”
And with a day at work often including various outings to the beach, parties, shopping or the movies, Jaclyn Pittala, who works an average of 30 hours a week with Angela, added that oftentimes her job doesn’t even feel like work.
Angela’s aide Mayra Osorio has been affected by Recco Home Health Care’s decision to no longer allow a single aide to work more than 40 hours per week. Osorio, who works more than one case through the agency, had been working approximately 53 hours per week to support her son and her ailing grandfather, who also receives care through CDPAP through South Shore Home Care.
CDPAP allows anyone to care for a consumer, besides the consumer’s spouse, so Osorio is one of her grandfather’s aides.
“It’s easy to find a job, this job is in high demand, but it is hard to find someone for him because they have other jobs,” she said.
Like Angela Pittala, Osorio’s grandfather requires 24-hour care but has only been granted 35 hours per week of paid care, everything else falls on his family members to take care of.
For a job that has “low pay for the work that is done,” Osorio says it can be even harder to rely on unpaid family members who have their own jobs and lives to worry about.