A caregiver shortage could soon be upon us, if it isn’t already. Paul Osterman, a professor human resources and management at MIT, and author of the book “Who Will Care For Us – Long-Term Care And The Long-Term Workforce” suggests the caregiving shortage could reach critical levels.
He estimates that by 2030 there could be a shortage of up to 151,000 directly paid care workers and 3.8 million unpaid family caregivers¹.
Osterman isn’t alone in his concerns – many media outlets report a growing caregiver shortage, paired with a growing need for caregivers.
Let’s take a look at the challenges facing the caregiving profession – and a promising new solution that is starting to gain traction.
The role of senior caregivers is a vital one. They are on hand to help older adults with a wide range of vital life tasks that they could not carry out themselves.
These tasks can be anything from personal care to housekeeping and cooking, attending appointments with them, or making sure they take their medication.
Without the help of professional caregivers, many older adults would not be able to stay in their own homes, or have any measure of independent living. Caregivers allow them to stay out of nursing homes and other care facilities, and live in their own home longer
Professional caregiving is sadly undervalued by society at large. The patience, dedication and skill that go into caregiving are frequently overlooked.
Workers are poorly paid – it is rare for caregivers to make a livable wage – and many find themselves working long, challenging hours, yet barely being able to lift themselves out of poverty.
Caregivers are typically women, women of color, or immigrants. Being drawn from populations that frequently battle poor working conditions, low wages, and discrimination from employers, makes caregiving challenging for anyone who chooses the caregiving profession.
Could there be a solution to the impending caregiver crisis?
It seems the answer might be yes: Caregiver co-operatives are starting to pop up around the nation, and might just provide the solutions the caregiving profession needs.
Caregiving co-ops are very different from the traditional caregiving agency model, being employee owned and operated. This offers many benefits to both the caregivers and their clients.
Caregiving co-ops offer many benefits both to workers and to their clients.
For workers, being in a co-op gives them a strong voice. They have part ownership of the co-op and the chance to get involved in everyday operations and decision-making processes.
For caregivers who have struggled with a lack of respect and care from employers, this is a powerful change.
Being part of such a project is fulfilling and helps build a strong sense of community. Caregiving co-ops could, eventually, provide people who are looking for a second career or a way to get a living wage, a chance to provide care while also making enough to provide for themselves and their families.
Co-ops benefit clients, too. Caregivers who feel respected, and who have a voice and a sense of stability, provide better care. Remove the stress of disrespectful employers and untenable working conditions, and caregivers are better able to focus on their clients.
Although they’re not commonplace yet, caregiving co-ops are getting some traction. The AARP Foundation, which exists to help struggling seniors with areas such as housing, have funded several caregiving co-ops throughout the country.
These worker-owned and worker-controlled agencies typically offer not only better pay but also better benefits, more in-depth training, and more stability to caregivers.
Independent caregiver co-ops are springing up, too. Peninsula Homecare Cooperative was started in February 2016 in Port Townsend, Washington. Peninsula Homecare received grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Alaska Co-operative Homecare Associates based in Anchorage now is the newest worker co-op to join the United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives, (USFWC) (Headquarters in San Francisco).
The dedicated group of self-employed caregivers who founded there co-ops embraced the model because it gave them more stability and allowed them to provide better care for seniors in their community.
Caregiver co-ops are still in their infancy, but they have the potential to provide caregivers with a more stable income, a stronger voice, and more impetus to stay in the caring profession. Those benefits are passed directly to those they care for.
Can caregiver co-ops stop the impending caregiver crisis? It’s impossible to stay at this stage, but one thing is for sure – they might just be an important part of the solution.