Addressing Maine’s Care Gap is crucial to the future of our state’s economy, quality of life, and ability to thrive
Direct care professionals are paid caregivers who provide daily living services and support to persons with disabilities and chronic care needs, including the elderly and those with physical or intellectual and developmental disabilities (ID/DD). Direct care professionals are a lifeline for older adults and people with disabilities, providing crucial hands-on care—including daily activities like bathing and clinical tasks like blood pressure readings—to individuals living in their homes and in other long-term care settings. Today, Maine’s direct care professionals comprise over 24,000 Maine workers, making it larger than almost any other occupational grouping in the state.
According to a report by the John A. Hartford Foundation (JAHF), direct care professionals are providing crucial support but are not currently receiving the crucial support they need. 3i HoME agrees.
Maine’s ‘Care Gap’ is Growing
Maine’s elderly population relative to the whole population is growing. In fact, by 2025, Maine is projected to see an increase from 13.9% in 1995 to 21.4% in adults ages 65+. While our population in need of direct care is growing, according to data presented by the Maine Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research and Information (CWRI), the number of people employed in direct support jobs shrank by 4,400 workers between 2019 and 2022.
According to the ‘The High Cost of Undervaluing Direct Care Work Report’ by the Maine Center for Economic Policy, Maine’s direct care workforce is in a fragile state due to a fundamental undervaluing of care.
A few of the main points the report makes include;
Maine’s collective failure to adequately support direct care workers is keeping more than 8,000 people out of Maine’s labor force.
Maine is missing out on over $1 billion per year in additional economic activity as a result of people dropping out of the labor force due to direct care challenges.
Undervaluing care work imposes significant public costs on our state, as low wages lead more workers to rely on public assistance programs, including MaineCare and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Meanwhile, the drop in labor force participation due to direct care responsibilities means fewer workers are contributing taxes. These combine to cost our state and federal budgets more than $70 million each year.
Direct care workforce shortages place undue strains on Maine’s health care system. In March 2023, Maine Medical Center had about 50 people under its care who were approved for discharge but could not find an alternative care setting; meanwhile, Northern Light Health noted that over a nearly six-month period, the cost of delayed discharges across the system’s hospitals totaled $13.6 million and amounted to approximately $63,000 per person.
Even with these alarming stats, the challenges of meeting our direct care needs will continue to be exacerbated by the consistent churn in the workforce, as many workers leave direct care in search of better compensation and working conditions. This lack of direct care often leaves family members who are unequipped to provide care themselves with impossible choices, and it threatens the fiscal viability of our public health insurance programs. Yet, this is the model that the federal government requires states to implement and to pay for. With 61 million Americans dealing with disabilities, it is long past time to effect change.
Building a workforce of empowered, skilled professionals is what Maine needs in order to provide individuals with disabilities the dignity and autonomy we all deserve.
Closing the Care Gap Benefits ALL of us
We can all do something to fix the fundamentally undervalued direct care workforce. And until we address fundamental undervaluing of care providers, all Mainers will continue to suffer the consequences.
Direct Care Professionals will suffer the indignity of receiving poverty wages in exchange for strenuous work.
Individuals in need of care will suffer from inability to afford care services and from receiving inadequate care from an overworked, underpaid workforce.
Families will suffer from the stress of having to fill this care vacuum, costing them their physical, mental, and financial wellbeing in the process.
Employers and the state economy will suffer the costs of increased staff turnover and decreased productivity, and needs will go unmet when caregivers are unavailable.
Hospitals will suffer the cost of delayed discharges that limit their ability to address acute needs and strain their budget.
Community Members who need emergency or elective hospital care will continue to have to wait longer for an inpatient bed.
The Maine state government will forgo critical revenue that could go towards addressing any of our many pressing needs.
The costs of our Care Gap continue to mount, failing to act now will negatively impact lives of Mainers for years to come.
At 3i HoME we hope to demonstrate that creating a more effective way to deliver services will have a positive impact on staff efficiency, thus enabling more individuals to achieve independence while reducing the demand on home and community-based services and the burnout that is impacting the direct care workforce.
Our project at The Downs will place importance on utilizing enhanced, personalized assistive technology in order to relieve the need for direct care, increase the individuals independence, and create a more sustainable solution for our community and economy.
Our work to fund our Assistive Technology Enhancement Center (ATEC) is currently underway and we could use your support! Help close the care gap and increase the dignity and autonomy of adults with disability!
Stay up-to-date on our project at The Downs and our work to help close the care gap through assistive technology by subscribing to our email list.