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Between 2015 and 2040 in Wisconsin, the population ages 65 and older will grow by 640,000 which will result in an increase of 72 percent! Who will care for them? We have a “silver tsunami” on the horizon and not enough direct care workers in Wisconsin to care for them.

Currently, more than 85 percent of Wisconsinites who rely on direct care workers for some or all of their support say they cannot find enough workers. This has put our most vulnerable citizens in danger of developing serious illness and/or harm.

Wisconsin is dealing with a crisis-level shortage of direct care workers. It is real and it is serious. This crisis is leaving families without options and people with disabilities and older adults without needed care. Direct care workers help people get out of bed, get dressed, prepare meals, use the bathroom, and provide assistance with other activities necessary for daily living.

Wisconsin has long been a national leader in supporting and protecting individuals with disabilities and older adults in the community instead of institutions. We are all proud of that fact! However, the workforce crisis threatens to undo this progress. The community is not only where people prefer to live, it is also the most cost-effective setting for taxpayers. Wisconsin is now forcing individuals to choose between living in the community without the necessary supports or moving to a nursing home or institution! This is not only heartbreaking, it is unjust.

The direct care workforce crisis is being driven by high worker turnover rates and growing job vacancies. Home care providers cannot keep up with the increased costs of doing business and pay workers a competitive wage with the current Medicaid reimbursement rate, which has not had an adequate increase in over 14 years! While the Wisconsin State Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee voted last month to approve the governor’s proposed 2 percent increase per year in the 2017-19 budget for the Personal Care Reimbursement rate, this increase is not adequate or reasonable.

The demand for personal care workers is expected to exceed 80,000 workers by 2024. This represents an annual growth rate of approximately 2.5 percent! If turnover rates remain at current levels and direct care worker jobs continue to go unfilled, the number of people living without assistance will only grow.

Wisconsin must take action now to address the direct care workforce crisis so that it can continue to be a leader in protecting and providing quality services to those who need it most. There is only one answer. We must be able to provide direct care workers with an adequate living wage. This can only be extended to them if home care providers are given an adequate and reasonable Medicaid reimbursement rate.

Carol Ann Wolf, MSH, is the director of human resources for Society’s Assets.


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