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The vicious cycle fueling Minnesota's PCA shortage: "Am I going to lose my independence now?"

The vicious cycle fueling Minnesota’s personal care attendant shortage
The vicious cycle fueling Minnesota’s personal care attendant shortage 02:09

EAGAN, Minn. – Staffing shortages in the in-home health care industry are hurting some of the Minnesotans who need help the most.

Mary Secord is a paraplegic who lives on her own in Eagan. She relies on personal care assistants (PCAs) to help her in and out of her chair, do housework and run errands.

The longest relationship she's had with a PCA is a year. On average though, she has a new one every few months.

"I have had some great ones that just get out of it because of the low pay, or because they aren't getting enough hours," Secord said.

Secord's been in the hospital this week because she didn't have another option. Her PCA stopped showing up last weekend.

"I was just stuck in bed for two-and-a-half days," Secord said. "I got home from work on Sunday, I had to miss work on Monday because I couldn't safely get out of bed and I'm tired of calling the paramedics."

Not able to go to work, Secord spent her time in the hospital working to hire someone. She managed to do it after not having much luck with agencies that provide PCAs to people in need.

All Home Health, a PCA agency based in Bloomington, has 280 clients who need help. Their number of caregivers at the moment is 10.

Mary Secord

"Unfortunately we don't have staff for [all our clients] right now which breaks my heart because you can't put a stop on the disabilities," said Daniela Gavilanes, All Home Health's staffing coordinator. "You can't put a stop on the assistance that they need."

Gavilanes says it's tough to find people willing to work for $15 an hour, especially with how demanding the job can be.

"A lot of our caregivers are getting burned out because they have to go from one client to another client to another client, and most of them have their own full-time jobs, and then they come at nighttime," she said.

Secord expects to be out of the hospital this weekend, but chances are it won't be long until she's looking, again, for a new assistant.

"It's a vulnerable feeling and it's a fear," Secord said. "It's like am I going to lose my independence now? Like, is it going to come to the day where they're gonna put me back in a group home? Those questions always run through my mind."

M Health Fairview says cases like Mary's have a ripple effect on hospital capacity and resources. They called the staffing shortage it takes resources away from patients who have medical emergencies.

They called the post-acute care staffing shortage "massive and urgent."

Here's M Health Fairview's full statement:

A lack of capacity in transitional care units, in-home supports, and nursing homes is impacting health systems' ability to discharge patients who are medically ready to leave the hospital. The shortage of post-acute care options is giving rise to steadily increasing lengths of hospital stays and stressing our system as we navigate a precarious operational environment coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a nation-wide staffing shortage. This takes a toll on patients, who need to recover elsewhere. It takes a toll on health systems who must provide care a patient does not need without adequate reimbursement. And it takes valuable resources (24-hour monitoring, skilled medical care, bed space, etc.) away from patients with emergent medical needs.

The need is massive and urgent, and requires some level of intervention by state and federal authorities to create the necessary relief in service to our communities.

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