As millions of Americans reach retirement age on a yearly basis, the demand for more health care workers is increasing dramatically. The Department of Labor says the fastest growing job in the nation is that of home health aides. In Nebraska, labor officials say demand for home health aides will increase by as much as 44 percent by 2020.
Elizabeth Gilmore, Betty to her friends, is a 93-year-old mother and grandmother.
“I’ve lived here all my life. I was born and raised here,” Betty said.
“Here” for Betty is Scottsbluff, located in Nebraska’s panhandle. She was married here. Raised a family here, and up until just two years ago, worked here for the Scotts Bluff County attorney.
After working in the same job for 47 years, she had to retire after an accident in her kitchen.
“I tumbled. I was down on my knees getting something out of the cupboard and I just toppled over. My hip must have broken before I fell,” Betty explained.
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Home health aides usually do not require any higher level education. However, many home health aides who work for companies and not directly for clients undergo some degree of training. Depending on state law, a home health aide requires some level of certification to administer prescription medications.
At a late stage in life, Betty said she was forced to do something she hadn’t done since childhood, rely on others for help. She moved in with her daughter in Durango, Colo. for a time, but Betty didn’t like that arrangement.
“She found out in a very short time that I was absolutely miserable. Not only trying to recover from the accident, but trying to adjust to a whole new way of life for me,” Betty said.
Instead of staying miserable, Betty moved back to Scottsbluff, and hired a home health aide through the company Home Instead. Betty said she considered the idea of moving into an assisted living facility, but preferred to be home.
“We’d all rather be home than in a rehab place, at least I would. I have some friends who have moved into an assisted living and places for living alone, but it’s not for me,” Betty said.
As the nation’s population continues to get older, stories like Betty’s are becoming more common. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, home health aide -- also called home caregiver or personal care aide -- is the fastest growing job in the country. Home health aides help their clients in the activities of daily living—things like getting dressed, taking a bath, cooking, cleaning, driving—the list goes on and on. The health aide could live in the client’s home, or spend as little as an hour a day there.
According to a study by the Bureau of Labor, in 2010 there were 1.9 million in-home care workers in the U.S. That number is expected to jump to 3.2 million by 2020.
The Nebraska Department of Labor says home health aides make up the fourth fastest growing job by percentage in the state, behind organizational psychologists, carpenters, and radio/cellular, TV equipment installers.
Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News
Catherine Lang is the commissioner of the Nebraska Department of Labor. Lang says on a percentage basis, home health aide is the fourth fastest growing job in the state. Lang and her staff have developed a health sciences career ladder for people interested in the health care industry. She says home health aide is a good starting point for people interested in the medical field.
“There’s an estimated employment of 2000 jobs, and the wage rate in Nebraska for those 2000 jobs shows an entry level wage of just over $9 an hour, up to an experienced wage of just over $13 an hour,” Lang said.
In most cases, home health aides don’t require any formal education. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says some don’t even have a high school diploma.
Lang explained the low pay associated with home health aides is a simple case of supply and demand.
“You have a greater percent of your population without higher education degree attainment, so you have a greater supply of individuals that can fill that demand. You’re not going to have that wage drive to a higher level,” Lang said.
Tam Grasmick has been a home health aide for 3 years. She was retired, but didn’t like being at home with nothing to do. So she got back into the workforce on a part-time basis.
Grasmick prefers to be called a caregiver, instead of a home health aide. As she explains it, you really do need to care for your client if you want to succeed in the field.
Grasmick is a caregiver for two women. She’s been caring for Betty Gilmore for just over a year.
“This has been just the most wonderful thing. I love it. It’s not like you get up in the morning and go, ‘I don’t want to go to work.’ I look forward to it every day,” Grasmick said.
Image Courtesy of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
The demand for home health aides will increase throughout the U.S. during the next 10 years. The states with the highest number of elderly residents will experience a greater increase in demand.
It’s the type of work that has allowed Betty to stay in her home longer, which Betty said helps keep her spirits up. Grasmick thinks Betty’s daughter is also glad for the help.
“It gives her some peace of mind. A lot of kids moved away from Scottsbluff when they grew up. Both ladies I work for, their kids don’t live here. Just to know there’s somebody checking on them, making sure they eat, it’s just as much for them I think as the client,” Grasmick said.
Catherine Lang said any time people can remain in their own home, the state’s economy can benefit.
“I think it’s an incredibly valuable service, because [home health aides] are the individuals that are probably allowing many of our citizens to remain at home longer; before they would need to enter into an assisted living or nursing home situation. So I think it is a very important job in our Nebraska economy,” Lang said.