OMAK North-Central Washington is seeing a shortage of in-home caregivers for disabled and elderly residents, and one agency says part of the problem is a misconception about what caregivers do.
“I don’t think that people know exactly what it entails,” Rescare Home Care Manager Dawn Bristol said. “For many years it had the image of just sitting and having tea with grandma. It’s really much more than that.”
Rescare, 523 Riverside Drive, employs 48 caregivers – officially called direct care providers – but there is demand for more.
“All up and down the valley there are elderly and disabled that have qualified for services through a state-funded program like (the Department of Social and Health Services), but they don’t get served because there aren’t enough qualified people who can work with them,” Bristol said. “Right now, for instance, I have 10 clients that I’m scrambling to find workers for that have qualified for services.”
It’s a problem locally to find workers, but it’s a statewide issue as well, she said.
Last year, Washington voters approved Initiative 1163, which determined caregivers should receive training and “being a caregiver is an actual profession,” she said.
Training is provided through the Service Employees International Union, even for those with no prior experience, and caregivers are then licensed through the state.
The skills a caregiver learns are primarily aligned with what certified nursing assistants do, Bristol said.
However, the job is classified as “non-medical.” Caregivers may bathe a client, help them get around and remind them to take their medication, but caregivers don’t monitor vital signs or measure fluids.
Much of what a caregiver does involves routine tasks as well that allow a client to remain in his or her home, such as getting clients to doctor’s appointments, taking them shopping and doing some housekeeping, Bristol said.
“Our major goal is to allow people to remain as independent as possible in their home,” she said. “We’re helping them with everyday living activities.”
A caregiver can help anywhere from one client to several each week, depending on how much the caregiver wants to work.
“Home care is not Monday through Friday and 8-5 with holidays off,” Bristol said. “I have people that are working on Thanksgiving because their client doesn’t have family around. It also depends on the care needs of the client. We have some clients who have to have someone seven days a week.”
The job isn’t for just anyone.
“It’s a much bigger cause than collecting a paycheck,” she said. “You receive so much more than what you give with this job.
“I know there’s good-hearted people out there in Okanogan County who are looking for work and just maybe haven’t thought about home care,” Bristol said.
Christi Perez, who has been a caregiver for 10 years, said the clients she helps make the job rewarding.
“It just makes you feel good to do what we do,” she said. “We help with reminding them of their medication, we will bathe, we cook, we shop for them. We will do just about anything it takes, with them and for them.”
“I just love my job,” Omak resident Jessica Rush, 24, said. She has worked as a caregiver since she was 16, and has been with Rescare for nearly one year.
Rush said providing companionship is a big component of what she does, a sentiment that fellow caregiver Tanya Hudon of Okanogan agreed with.
“You learn so much from your clients, if they’re elderly,” she said, noting that she once worked with a 98-year-old woman.
“The things she told me, it was just amazing. You learn so much more about history than what you’re taught in school.”
Hudon has been a caregiver for three years and said every day is different.
“It’s nice to know that you helped them stay home, that you’re part of the reason they’re getting to stay,” she said.