LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- Health officials said many seniors across Nevada are not getting basic daily care in their homes due to the shortage of health care workers, despite the state paying for many home visits.
The crisis of a shortage of health care workers in Clark County prompted a summit Thursday between county officials and Nevada Senior Services about how to solve the problem on a local level and bring more workers to the Las Vegas Valley.
"Nevada shares in the national shortage of home care workers and many of the Community Based Care (CBC), Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) recipients do not receive all their weekly authorized hours because of this shortage. Providers are reporting challenges with hiring additional staff to support the HCBS need based on reimbursement rates and an uncompetitive wage," said Nikki Haag of Nevada Department of Health and Human Services.
Diana Merica, 70, has multiple sclerosis and cannot move most of her limbs. She needs someone to lift her in and out of bed with special equipment, bathe her and tend to her daily needs; if someone is not properly trained, she could get injured, and has been hurt before.
"I just would like the care, the bathing, making sure I'm comfortable. I can't move. I don't want bed sores," Merica said.
Merica and her daughter said although a DHHS social worker gave them a list of 40 agencies that the state would pay for, virtually none of them has been able to guarantee what the state pays for -- five hours of care, seven days a week.
"I just can't believe it. This is the most difficult time I've had in staffing and keeping my care going," Merica said. "I call every day, 'Is someone on my schedule today?' It's extremely frustrating and can be depressing," she said.
Even when the family has sought care outside that state-approved agencies for Personal Assistance Services, those companies still have shortages of workers.
"She has everything she needs, she just can't get out of bed," said daughter Kim Hagans. "We are not trained on the daily care ... of someone who is bedbound. It's dangerous if you're not skilled."
The family helps with basic care and feeding, when no trained caregiver is available. Hagans and Merica, in their dealings with dozens of agencies, say low wages and lack of training is a big issue in retaining staff.
"This is a wave that's crashing on our shore. We have a situation where the shortage of personal care in the state of Nevada is made worse by a higher demand as a result of COVID, and a reduced workforce as a result of COVID," said Jeff Klein of Nevada Senior Services.
The organization houses Nevada Care Connection, a federal program, that is currently helping Merica and other seniors with trouble getting care.
"The state, the county, the nonprofits and private agencies are all struggling at this time ... We are trying to figure out how we can address it with our most vulnerable clients, and partner with agencies to get everybody to fix this, and try to solve it," said Kevin Schiller, assistant county manager.
Clark County officials are working to better partner with agencies to make sure seniors get proper care, and also looking at how to bring more trained workers in our Valley.
DHHS said the agency has asked for additional American Rescue Plan Act funds from the federal government to ensure more care for Nevadans. A recent piece of legislation may also shed light on issues in the home healthcare workforce.
"SB340 ... allows the Department of Health and Human Services and the Labor Commissioner to create a Home Health Work Force Standards Board and to investigate the wages and working conditions in this industry. The purpose of this bill is to improve the wages and working conditions in this vital industry that allows people to stay in their homes," Haag said.