A new report suggests that better pay for front-line staff would have a positive domino effect, impacting quality of care, turnover, and financial wellness.
There is little question that direct care workers play an essential role in senior care – from home care to skilled nursing. They not only provide needed care and services, but they also touch residents’ lives, bring joy and laughter, and ward off loneliness. Yet there is a disconnect between these workers’ value and how they are paid. A new report from LeadingAge details how higher wages for direct care workers not only can boost their financial wellbeing but also reduce turnover, improve productivity, and enhance quality of life.
Using publicly available data and standard economic simulation techniques, the authors imagine a world in which direct care workers are paid a living wage. They determined that this change would:
- Lower staffing shortages by incentivizing workers to put in longer hours and attracting new people to the field.
- Reduce turnover and boost productivity. The reduction in turnover could lead to significant savings, covering more than 10% of the total wage increase.
- Add billions of dollars to local economies. Additional spending by workers who have more money would have a significant “economic footprint.” Communities where workers live, in particular, would benefit from their additional spending.
- Enhance financial wellbeing for individual workers, doubling the number who have retirement savings and increasing the percentage who own their own homes. Higher wages also would reduce workers’ use of public assistance programs, saving state and federal governments up to $16 billion per year.
Raising pay to a living wage in 2022 would give a vast majority – 75.3% — of direct care workers a higher wage than they might currently expect. The price tag, estimated to be $9.4 billion, is actually quite modest, the report suggests, when the savings and other benefits are considered.
The authors stress that better wages for direct care workers would also have a positive impact on their residents/patients/clients. They state, “Care recipients would experience fewer adverse health outcomes, such as pressure ulcers, urinary tract infections, or the use of physical restraints.” These people also would receive more supportive care, including physical and occupational therapy.
Ultimately, the authors observe, “Clearly, direct care workers contribute substantially to the health and wellbeing of their care recipients and the overall functioning of our healthcare system. Yet, the same healthcare system that relies heavily on direct care workers to ensure the health and safety of patients also undervalues those workers by paying them so little that many cannot live on their wages, even when working full time. This failure to value direct care workers puts the health of care recipients at risk.”