Pandemic has created shortage in home healthcare workers in Texas

Home healthcare workers and parents of patients gathered at the Texas Law Center Tuesday morning to call on state lawmakers to allocate more than $400 million of Texas' $16 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds to support critical home care this special session.

Half a million Texans receive home health care, though pay for the services is capped. The State Legislature appropriates money to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which then publishes reimbursement rates.

Mary Ann Naranjo of A Pineywoods Home Health explained, "The most we can pay people is $9.50 an hour. And here's a visual for you. Would you rather go work at Bucees for $15 to $16 an hour slicing fudge? That sounds like fun. Or would you rather be paid $9 an hour to clean up someone's mess, change their diaper, give them a bath…?"

Speech language pathologist Vicki Gilani works at Kids Developmental Therapy and Kids Developmental Clinic in Houston, which serves infants to young adults aged 18.

"If you call our office, it will take approximately four to five months for your child to be seen by a speech therapist, during which time they will continue to struggle with the ability to eat or talk. I've told the mother of a 10-week-old infant who can't swallow that we likely won't be able to see their child for another four months. Since when is it okay to deny someone access to medically necessary care, the ability to eat for four months?" she said.

Gilani said her clinic provides each family with a list of other agencies that "may" be able to staff their child and added, "But every agency is dealing with the same things we are. A shortage of staff while all of us are dealing with the rising cost of inflation."

Brian Broadbent of the Dallas metroplex said his five-year-old daughter Emma contracted pneumonia in late August after private nurses failed to show up at the family’s home three nights in a row. "If we had the nursing coverage that my daughter needs. I don't think we would be in this boat." he stated.

Emma receives private duty nursing through Texas’ Medically Dependent Children Program. Broadbent says the agency the family uses is short staffed and explained, "My daughter misses nursing coverage, her health suffers."

Emma has a severe genetic syndrome, a deletion of a long non-coding RNA named CHASERR. Broadbent said Emma’s case is the first ever reported.

"I'm here today because my daughter is sitting in a hospital at Children's Medical Center in Dallas because the private duty nursing situation in Texas is failing her." he said.

The $412 million would not raise the pay cap for home care agencies, however it would allow employers to temporarily offer hazard pay and signing bonuses.

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