June 12, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Pressure on the City Council could soon result in about 240 senior citizens finally getting the home care that they deserve – but that number is just a minuscule fraction of the tens of thousands who actually need the help, and there aren’t nearly enough adequately-paid home care workers to get the job done.
The Department for the Aging presently employs 1199SEIU members who provide home care to about 3,000 elderly New Yorkers who exisit in a cruel limbo where they can't afford to pay for servics on their own, but still don’t qualify for help through Medicaid.
Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal (D-6th District) has put in a request for $1.8 million to help fund the Expanded In-home Services for the Elderly Program (EISEP) following hearings on Friday in which the City Council heard from senior citizens seniors either stuck on the EISEP waiting list, or too discouraged to even apply.
“I almost applied for home care services recently, but when I learned about the cost, I knew that I could not afford it,” Brooklynite Melba Adams said. “Although I am on a fixed income, it is not low enough for me to receive home care paid for by Medicaid either. I did not learn that EISEP existed until very recently. It is too bad that there is a long waiting list to receive home care services, because I really could use some help now.”
EISEP is a joint city and state initiative started back in the 1980s and is intended to address the needs of low-income and undocumented senior citizens. Since 2008, however, the city’s share of the load has diminished to a point where a program that once had a $15 million budget, is now squeaking by on just $5 million.
The number of elderly New Yorkers, meanwhile, is exploding, and will soon constitute one-fifth of the city's population.
According to the Alliance for a Greater New York (ALIGN) – the umbrella organization pushing for increased EISEP funding – there are now roughly 80,000 elderly New Yorkers who could potentially benefit from the program, but who are not.
At home care can often mean the difference between senior citizens remaining independent, and ending up in costly and signifcantly less desirable institutions.
“We’re insisting that we at least get these folks off the waiting list,” said Kristi Barnes, ALIGN communications director. “But there’s a recognition that we need a long term strategy.”
Home care workers belong to the fastest growing occupation in New York City, but remain at the bottom in compensation. They perfom vital duties that are tough and demanding, and yet, comparible work is not compensated equally.
Workers paid through Medicaid demand incomes and earn benefits that their counterparts working outside of the system do not enjoy. And advocates for both workers and senior citizens alike, say that the lack of parity ultimately stands in the way of bringing home care to more New Yorkers who need it.
“It’s going to be very hard to recruit workers to cover those cases,” said Helen Schaub, New York State policy and legislative director, 1199SEIU. “We want to make sure there is parity between workers on Medicaid cases and these workers, so, that there’s a seamless ability to recruit workers.”
That's why, in addition to working with ALIGN to increase funding for EISEP, 1199SEIU is also calling on the Department for the Aging to begin paying home care agencies participating in the program the same as Medicaid workers.
Individual home care clients usually receive about 8 to 12 hours of service each week, so workers must often juggle multiple assignments located in different locations in order to build a full-time, 40-hour work week.
Despite those kinds of challenges, Nicole Wynaar, a home care worker and 1199SEIU member, said that she enjoys working with her EISEP clients – and that they all deserve care.
“Being independent is the most important thing to them,” Wynaar said. “We know that home care services are much less expensive than the alternatives, and allow clients to remain in their homes with dignity, respect and independence. New York City should expand cost effective programs like EISEP.”