When our best resourced hospitals don’t have access to the medical equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to provide care to COVID 19 patients, you can be sure same is true for home health aides. As one former director of a regional home care agency put it, “Aides are at the bottom of the heap in the medical system. They’re the last ones to be considered.” Yet, homecare could be the safest choice as nursing homes and long-term care facilities experience a rapid increase of infection.
In addition to those who already rely on home health aides, those with COVID-19 who are able to self-quarantine at home will be in need of care. And as thousands of hospitalized patients return home, they, too, will need in-home care to fully recover.
This could provide an opportunity for unemployed Pennsylvanians. However, the threat of contracting the coronavirus on the job may deter people from becoming a home health aide. Furthermore, home care workers are often paid at or just above minimum wage. In an industry where the work is emotionally and physically taxing and low paid, where benefits are limited, hours are inconsistent, and career advancement is nearly non-existent, recruitment of enough caregivers to meet demand is a significant challenge.
One solution is an employee-owned model. When home health aides and personal care aides become worker-owners, they experience improved job quality through increased wages, more stable employment, consistent hours, improved training opportunities, and more opportunities for caregivers to advance their careers.
The second largest and one of the oldest home care cooperatives in the country, Home Care Associates (HCA) of Philadelphia, owned by 125 employees, has been in operation for more than 25 years. As one of twelve employee-owned home care agencies across the country, HCA is finding that, as their former director Karen Kulp stated, “Co-ops shine in times of crisis.” HCA is one of the few home care agencies that provides health insurance to its worker-owners. Caregivers can continue to do their jobs - providing life sustaining care to the most vulnerable- knowing if they get sick, they won’t go into debt due to medical bills.
Because all employee-owners have a stake in the success of the company, and because of aide’s “tremendous hearts,” as Kulp explains, employee-owners step up in this difficult time. Caregivers take on extra shifts, caring for coworkers’ clients. Managers who could easily work from home go into the office as an act of solidarity so that aides aren’t the only ones putting themselves at risk. Leadership staff check in regularly with aides on the frontlines. Volunteers make hand sanitizer and masks. This is, as Kulp puts it, part of the co-op spirit. “For co-ops,” she says, “it’s about us, this is our business, our money.”
While Home Care Associates is the only employee-owned home care agency in Pennsylvania, it won’t be for long. Keystone Development Center (KDC) was awarded a Socially Disadvantaged Groups Grant from the USDA to explore the opportunities to develop worker-owned home care in Central Pennsylvania. KDC, a small non-profit, has a mission to sustain communities, economies, and resources through cooperatively-owned businesses. The ICA Group, a partner on the project, is a national nonprofit that specializes in the development of childcare and home care cooperatives as well as cooperative conversions of businesses of all kinds.
While the good work being done elsewhere does not ease the burden on caregivers and agencies in this current crisis, it is important to know that the opportunity for employee-owned home care cooperatives – cooperatives that shine in times of crisis - is growing. An effort to expand the opportunity for employee-ownership to more caregivers in Pennsylvania is underway.
Executive Director, Keystone Development Center
For more information, contact Keystone Development Center by calling 717-792-2163 or emailing email@example.com