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Hiring In-Home Care Becoming Easier in OR

PHOTO: Rebecca Sandoval has occasionally brought her home-care clients to Salem to help convince the Legislature not to cut the hours of in-home services they receive. Photo courtesy of Sandoval.
PHOTO: Rebecca Sandoval has occasionally brought her home-care clients to Salem to help convince the Legislature not to cut the hours of in-home services they receive. Photo courtesy of Sandoval.
May 27, 2014

SALEM, Ore. - Any Oregonian who needs in-home assistance with daily living and some medical needs will be able to use the Oregon Home Care Commission registry and referral system to help find it, when Senate Bill 1542 is signed into law on May 29. Until now, the list of trained and qualified home-care aides has been for use only by people whose care is paid for by the State of Oregon. The new legislation allows anyone to use it, and was prompted in part by reports of shortages of private home-care services in some areas.

Members of the caregivers' union SEIU Local 503 stand to gain more business from the change, although home-care workers' union president Rebecca Sandoval notes that the primary benefit is that more Oregonians should be able to get care at home.

"If you have an individual who has complicated medical issues, if they have a trained professional to help track every aspect of their care - diet, their rest and their medication - that just makes their whole care plan work so much better," Sandoval says.

There was some push-back in the legislature from private home-care service companies that said the change puts them in competition with state-funded caregivers. However, advocates for the bill argued that people should be able to hire home-care workers from a variety of sources.

In-home care has not always been unionized in Oregon. When Adam Riggs started as a caregiver in Eugene 13 years ago, he says it was a minimum-wage job with no benefits. With the aging population and the soaring need for in-home services, Riggs thinks organizing to add training and improve wages made sense.

"That, I think, has really helped change our industry from being one where we had a lot of turnover to one where people are actually beginning to make it into a career now," Riggs says. "I feel proud to have been a part of a lot of those changes."

State-paid home-care workers now make about $13 an hour.

Sandoval says most of the union's work in Salem benefits home-care clients as much as its membership. For example, she says, every year there are attempts to trim the home-care service hours of lower-income clients.

"We've been able to organize and make the point repeatedly that this is a program you don't want to cut, for a lot of reasons, because of the matching federal dollars we get for every hour of home-care that the State of Oregon pays for," she explains. "And we give people the ability to live in their own home and/or in a care setting that they choose."

Caring for people at home rather than in nursing-care facilities saves the State of Oregon close to a half-billion dollars a year, she adds.

The bill signing is Wednesday, May 29, at 11 a.m. at the State Capitol.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR