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As the US population ages, the need for home health-care workers skyrockets

  • Opportunities in the industry range from the highest level of skilled nurses and therapists through paraprofessionals, including home health and personal care aides, said Bill Dombi, president of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice.
  • "In 2015, it was the first time nationally that more money was spent on home care than nursing home care," Dombi said. "We've seen a culture and financing shift toward home and community-based care."

Each day, some 10,000 seniors turn 65 in the United States, and the majority of them are hoping to age in their own homes. The staggering number of aging Americans has created demand for home health-care workers — from nurses to aides and caregivers.

Jobs in health care have already been growing at breakneck speed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2006 through 2016 2.8 million jobs were added in the health-care sector at a rate that was seven times faster than the rest of the economy. Through 2026, the projected growth of jobs in health-care settings is at 18 percent. But the demand for home health and personal care aides will far outpace the sector's growth, with an increase of 41 percent to more than 4 million jobs.

"The demand for home care and hospice continues to grow as we see a graying of the U.S. population," said Bill Dombi, president of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, adding that both younger and older patients are pivoting ever more toward in-home care. "The shift has also been in financing from government sources — primarily through Medicare and Medicaid. In 2015, it was the first time nationally that more money was spent on home care than nursing home care. We've seen a culture and financing shift toward home and community-based care."

Opportunities in the industry range from the highest level of skilled nurses and therapists through paraprofessionals, including home health and personal care aides, Dombi said. Lower-skilled positions may not require medical degrees, but they do often require training and a competency test.

Homewatch CareGivers is just one company looking for recruits to meet the growing need for aides. They employ some 5,000 caregivers nationwide with a focus on in-home care for seniors. They also serve disabled children and veterans. CEO Julie Smith said her franchisees in more than 200 cities in the U.S. are growing revenue at double digits annually.

Home health aides like Eneika Fowler are in demand, with a growth rate of 41 percent through 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Kate Rogers | CNBC
Home health aides like Eneika Fowler are in demand, with a growth rate of 41 percent through 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"Right now with the economy doing as well as it is, there is a high level of competition for these jobs," Smith said. "But if you want to make an impact in the lives of other people, which most of our caregivers do, this is the place to come to."

Homewatch CareGivers does background checks on its aides and puts them through an online university to be sure they are skilled and understand issues that may impact clients from loneliness to helplessness and boredom, beyond just physical help. "The skills of a high-quality home care provider are quite significant — it's more than just helping somebody bathe," she said. "It's making sure the issues that impact seniors don't adversely impact them."

The company also hires aides such as Eneika Fowler, 39, as employees, not contracted workers, as many other agencies do. Fowler also receives a benefits package with a 401(k) and health insurance. She loves what she does, despite challenges from ailing patients to the physical labor involved in elder care.

"When I walk into a room and introduce myself, and they light up, that's a lot for me — it touches me," she said.

Given the demand, Dombi said the industry will likely face a shortage of workers like Fowler in the future. "We're looking at what we consider to be a significant issue that has to be addressed, where demand will be in excess of the supply of workers," he said. "The solutions at this point are elusive — they range from technology-based solutions, higher rates of reimbursement and even changing immigration laws."

Another challenge is pay. Dombi says for aides, pay is often just above minimum wage, between $10 and $11 an hour.

"We are starting to see wages go up on what we call 'private pay services,' as the demand increases and the number of workers is difficult to secure," he said. "But, those workers who are able to demand a higher wage are getting it."