Monday, July 2, 2007

Paying an arm and a leg

I recently did a series that is over at A Different Light entitled Hiring An Arm and a Leg about personal care assistants. After talking to Meredith yesterday, I've decided to follow up on that with a piece about an unspoken issue I often encounter due to the shortage of home health care aides (personal care assistants) - having to overpay - in the extreme- to get the help I need to back her up or add to her services. It bothers her as and it bothers me. And it's very prevalent in the area where I live.

I want to be clear that I support the efforts of personal care assistants in raising their hourly wages from the paltry eight to ten dollars an hour it currently is. And I support them asking for more than that.

But it's becoming more common around here that pca's I hire who are paid eight to ten dollars an hour by an agency want to charge me triple that amount. (I've been asked to pay as much as 40 dollars an hour.)

The sad part about this is that if I'm over a barrel in terms of needing help, I have three choices: I can pay the agency rate (which provides bonded help) or pay the pca who is demanding that hourly wage or do without the help in the near term and wait out the situation. Depending on whether my health is on the line or not, I make my choices. However the truth is that paying this rate depletes my resources rapidly. And there are times when I can't afford it so it's not a choice.

I'm writing about this because I'm seeing this happen more frequently. "Freelancing" pca's seem to be overcharging people with disabilities to make up the money they lose working for an agency. They aren't bonded or insured, offer no extra services, have no specialized training and do not even offer coupons. In a nutshell, there is no consumer protection.

I'm going to stick my neck out here and say that I think this is a backlash toward being underpaid and underappreciated. Although I could be noble and say I understand, I really have to say that my experience in dealing with this makes me feel as if I'm being "held up". It turns me off. Even my pca agrees with me that this trend is hurting the relationships between people with disabilities and those working as pca's.

It reminds me of the story I once heard from a woman with MS who lived in a disability housing project. She said that the pca's provided by them had a policy - they would come into her apartment, open her wallet and take what was in there if it was "enough". If not, they walked out without helping her at all. So when her retired parents who lived on Social Security visited on the weekends,she would have them leave cash in there so she could get care for the week. When I asked her how much had to be in there, she responded "At least two hundred dollars a week." Out of fear, she wouldn't let me help her confront the situation.

It's sad that the current situation where pca's are so grossly underpaid results in situations like this, where those of us with disabilities get "held up" by angry and resentful burned out workers.

From now on, when I go without help rather than pay these rates, it's not because I don't think pca's deserve better pay. I'm willing to go higher (if and when I can afford it )than the average pay they get from agencies. I just can't triple or quadruple it to make up the difference.



I paid 35 an hour for someone to fill in. She said I'm experienced and I deserve it. Plus there's a shortage. She said If you can't afford it that's really your problem, dear. I borrowed the money because I had to have the help. It is my problem for sure.

goldchair said...

Dude, an agency around here costs 26 an hour. You're better off because they're bonded so I'd keep in mind what agencies charge.

In order to save money on help, I've tried paying by the job. But it gets ridiculous. Like one day I had to pay someone ten bucks to put an overhead lightbulb. It took two minutes.

I'm disgusted by the attitude of people I interview when it comes to pay. They try to get as much as possible and it's America so I get that. But they want more an hour than I make and I worked to get a Master's degree. Can I afford it is different than will I pay it to me. Not for simple things like washing dishes. No way. But I have that choice because I'm a para.

betterolls said...

My two cents: the important language here is "taking advantage". It's not right for aides to work for so little and it's also not right for some of them to overcharge to get back money.

Elizabeth McClung said...

$20 a hour is common here for minimum, and my pca quit last week 12 hours before she was suppose to come over because she "found a better job and they want me to start right away" so now I have to try and find another one. Beyond this I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on pca and gender - For myself I am trying to find a female pca because considering this person is going to have to move me, or help me go to the bathroom in a place with no oversite like a hospital, I just don't feel comfortable letting a guy in - but is this just baggage that simply cannot be afforded?

Ruth said...

Based on my real life experience, I'd say honor how you feel about the gender of a pca in terms of personal care - not just because of your feelings but because I'm not confident that agencies adequately screen and/or supervise any history of inappropriate touching/sexual misbehavior by pca's. I personally had a male pca sent to me by an agency who had inappropriately touched others during care (this was reported) and he cornered me - luckily a male friend happened to stop by at that exact moment.

Of course this isn't just a gender issue and I realize that there are probably many wonderful kind and safe male pca's out there but I'm not comfortable based on what I've seen telling you that your concerns aren't valid.

And I leave open the discussion to any other points of view here of course.

hotwheelz said...

My friend paid 30 an hour for an aide to come over and dress her so she could go to her mom's funeral because it was early - 9 a.m. and her regular aide wouldn't do it. I know because she doesn't work and I gave her 60 bucks to pay for it. 60 bucks to be dressed in a dress that was ten years old is an expense able bodied people don't have.

I don't think people understand until their parents need help or they are disabled what this is like as a way of life.

Anonymous said...

Here's another comment from me that prolly won't get posted: I am totally horrified and disgusted by stories I hear about pca's ripping off those who need them. Hey, I'm no angel but I'm not a pca because it pays my mortgage.

Do I need the $? Absolutely. I panic if I don't get my paltry (read: pathetic) agency checks. Could I make more $ doing something else? Most certainly. But being a personal aide has benefits that go way beyond cash and right into character development.

Not that I think *I* need much more character development. LOL.

If my current pca gig ended tomorrow, I'd seek out another one. (After I took a vacation that involved lots of rest!)

Being a pca keeps me emotionally and spiritually honest, physically fit, and now I can strip down a manual wheelchair for parts!

$10 to change a light bulb? $60 to dress someone for their mother's funeral? Jesus weeps.

Anonymous said...

I work as a pca for my brother. I get very little pay and put in lots of extra hours so he can actually have a life because the hours he gets are paltry. While I do this I go to college but when I finish college and he gets a "real" pca I don't know how he's going to manage.

Maybe having to pay more is seen as good to motivate him and others to work harder to get better from their disabilities by people (and there are many) who cruelly ask him are you sure you can't do that? Have you tried? He's a quadriplegic too . But they dont get it at all and its sad.