The corona virus is going to bring huge change to our society over the coming weeks and months, and may even affect change in the longer term as well.
In the short term it is going to put extreme pressure on our health system and on our economy as a whole.
Apart from the risks to our economy and the societal inconveniences of social distancing, we should never forget that there are also people in real danger of dying from this pandemic and one of the cohorts of people most at risk are our older population.
The home care sector and its carers are the frontline of defence for many of our older people to ensure they are able to stay safely at home where the risk of contamination is less than in crowded health settings.
Before this crisis the home care sector was struggling to recruit and retain carers anyway. This crisis could make the situation even worse and at a time when we have never needed carers more. This crisis has the potential to drive even more carers from the sector, leaving us with a severely crippled home care sector.
One of the positives that might come out of this crisis, is a wake-up call as to what an important job our carers do and how we need to value them so much more. How we need to ensure that caring is an attractive career, well paid and worth doing?
However, in the short term what could be done to ensure we hold onto the maximum capacity possible within the sector?
We have to ensure our carers stay healthy and are able to continue their work. The best way to do this is to ensure they are practicing good hygiene but also to ensure that they never run short of gloves, aprons, hand gels and other protective products.
Lets give care workers priority in testing for the virus so that their chances of passing it on are significantly lessened.
Free Public Transport
Many carers use public transport to get to their clients. Why not remove this cost for them so that more money finds it way into their pockets? Even better, if we want to ensure they have less chance of contamination from public transport, why not pay for taxis?
Many carers in the sector are also on social welfare and because of this there are limitations as to how many days and hours they can work. If they go over those limitations the face a cliff face loss of social welfare. Why not remove those limitations and allow carers to work the maximum number of hours with no affect on their social welfare payments?
Stamp 2 Visas
We have many people working as carers in Ireland on stamp 2 visas. These visas limit them generally to working only 20 hours a week. Let’s remove that limitation and allow them to work a full week until this crisis is over.
Home care providers work under a tender arrangement with the HSE which sets the ground rules for home care provision. There are many rules within the tender that could be relaxed temporarily to improve capacity such as
- Relax training and qualification requirements so that more carers are eligible to provide care
- Relax invoicing requirements such as signed time sheets from clients in order to speed up payments to providers
- Pay providers based on rolling two weekly planned visits rather than actual visits, so that they can continue to pay and hold onto carers. The fear here is if carers find visits cancelled by families and they aren’t paid they will look elsewhere for work.
- Pay travel time to make caring more attractive
We know there are about 7,000 families waiting for home care provision and many of them are waiting because providers don’t have carers. Why not allow families use their allocated home care package directly with someone locally available to provide support to their loved ones. This also ensures fewer carers travelling long distances to provide care and therefore at risk of spreading the virus. The more local care is, the less likely the virus will spread.
Carer Spouses Carers will have their own kids at home over the coming weeks. How about ensuring carer spouses are paid to ensure they can stay at home to free up carers to do their job?
If we want to limit the number of deaths from this pandemic and lessen the pressure on our acute settings, we need to ensure that we have a healthy and motivated team of carers, working in the community on the frontline, getting every support possible.
One real benefit after all this has passed, could be that caring at long last becomes an attractive and respected career. That these frontline heroes become more visible and valued.