Why We Need to Take Care of the Workers Behind Home Healthcare
by Michelle Chen, Nation Magazine
In the debate over modernizing the healthcare system, the realm of home-based healthcare services seems mired in the last century. Long dismissed as unskilled “senior sitters,” home care aides have only recently been officially included under minimum wage and overtime protections. Yet even as they’re just catching up to last century’s labor laws, home care is quickly adapting to 21st-century medical standards—creating the double challenge of shaping dignified careers out of a traditionally thankless job.
Since home-based healthcare services is one of the fastest growing sectors, home care jobs are being redefined largely by market trends. But a program developed through the SEIU home care union in Washington sees the sector’s expansion as a platform to systematically transform one of the lowest-paid jobs into a career of the future.
The SEIU Healthcare Northwest Training Partnership’s apprenticeship program, an initiative administered through a non-profit founded by the union in partnership with employers and the state, takes a two-pronged approach: first, equipping aides to “keep people healthy and out of emergency rooms and hospital beds” by delivering preventive senior and disability care; second, to help union members “reap a fair share of the financial benefits that accrue to the system,” primarily by avoiding more expensive emergency and hospital care. The broader goal is boosting job quality for the workforce, comprised of mostly working-poor women, by reducing extremely high turnover rates (currently exceeding 60 percent annually) and building equitable career pathways for future workers.