I was born with cerebral palsy, and since my teens I’ve relied on home care workers for all my daily activities. It’s not an exaggeration to say I wouldn’t be able to survive without my home care worker, Darlene. But her work goes beyond just caring for my physiological needs. She empowers me to live a full life of meaning, creativity and joy.
Although Darlene’s work is absolutely essential, she’s paid only around $12 an hour, and most of our state’s 13,000 home care workers make even less. These poverty wages have created an extreme shortage of workers, and families increasingly can’t find the services they need.
That’s why seniors and people with disabilities are raising the alarm that our state and national elected leaders need to solve this crisis.
Nevada has received millions in temporary federal funding from the American Rescue Plan, and we must immediately put rules in place so those resources actually get to frontline workers. And moving forward, we need to ensure there is much greater permanent investment in home care services.
Darlene, who has been a home care worker for 33 years, is everything to me. She’s there for me when I wake up in the morning and helps me shower, dress, get into my electric wheelchair and eat breakfast. At night, she feeds me dinner and gets me into bed. She has similar duties for five other clients, and often works from 5 a.m. to midnight in order to make ends meet.
Throughout my life, this fundamental support from home care workers has allowed me to thrive and pursue my passion of musical theater. I’ve acted in and directed more than a dozen musicals, and I’m also in the process of getting a master’s degree in the field.
So it makes me outraged that home care workers — who are majority women and disproportionately people of color — are exploited and shamefully undervalued for their vital roles.
There are currently more than half a million retirement-age Nevadans, and they’re expected to make up 20 percent of the state’s population by 2030. This has led to a rapidly growing demand for services, just as poverty wages have pushed workers out of the profession. In a recent survey, 75 percent of home care workers said they may have to leave the field because the pay is too low.
This crisis can seem overwhelming, but there are concrete solutions at hand. At the state level, Gov. Steve Sisolak and the Department of Health and Human Services listened to our concerns and recently provided $500 supplemental payments to home care workers.
Clients and workers have also been participating in the new Home Care Employment Standards Board, and there are crucial steps this board must take immediately. Most urgently, there has to be accountability and clear policies so that the $127 million in American Rescue Plan funding goes to workers, not just agency owners. In addition, the board needs to make sure that workers don’t have to pay out of pocket for job-related expenses and that clients get the full number of service hours necessary for our care.
Because the American Rescue Plan funding is temporary, we also need stable support to create a sustainable home care system over the long term. To that end, President Joe Biden has proposed a critical and permanent investment in Medicaid home and community-based services. His proposal would help provide increased wages and benefits, expand training opportunities and give workers a better opportunity to form a union so they can advocate for themselves and their clients. Nevada Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen support the plan.
For seniors and people with disabilities, this is a matter of life and death. We could not exist without our home care workers. Elected officials must invest in workers to recognize their sacrifices and recruit and retain the workforce we need.
Evan Gadda is a home care client, an actor and director of musical theater. He writes from Reno.