Honor Home Care Month by Standing Up for Texas Patients: Rachel Hammon

Home care is more than health care. It’s a mother’s sigh of relief when a trusted nurse enters her home to ensure safe and effective care for her medically complex child, or a husband holding his wife’s hand while they are in the bed they share have a comfortable supply at the end of life receives decades.

These little moments remind me what home care is really about: connection and dignity when we are most vulnerable. Through the support of home care and hospice professionals, we ensure every American has the right to choose where they feel most comfortable – at home.

Home care and hospice services support more than 500,000 medically vulnerable families in Texas and provide a life raft of stability in situations that can bring life-changing ups and downs. These families depend on home care – as does our healthcare system. A 2016 study found that home nursing reduced the overall number of hospital admissions and readmissions for medically complex children. And with fewer hospital visits for avoidable, manageable medical needs, more than $33 billion could be saved, benefiting the entire health care continuum and every American who pays for it.

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But today, home care facilities and the patients they serve are struggling. In Texas, Medicaid concurrent care reimbursement rates, set by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission through state-provided funds, have stagnated for the past 16 years. As a result, home care facilities are severely underfunded, with home care workers earning an average of 12% less than hospital nurses and front-line workers, who earn between $8.11 and $9.50 an hour.

If lawmakers again fail to address this significant funding shortfall during the upcoming session, home care workers will continue to leave the profession and seek alternative employment, and the consequences will be borne by the families who rely on home health care. Working parents will be forced to give up their careers to provide 24-hour care for their medically complex children. Years of waiting lists for essential home care services will continue to grow. Seniors will be forced to leave their homes early for more expensive institutional care. Hospital beds will continue to fill up as patients with manageable medical problems have no other place to go. Home care services that cannot keep up with rising costs will have to close their doors and we will all pay the price.

Texas lawmakers must come together in this session to raise pay rates for home care providers to make our industry hiring competitive and keep pace with inflation. While Texas is enjoying all-time highs in average hourly wages, hard-working home health workers who so often become part of the families they serve have been left behind, earning starting wages as little as $8.11. This work is deeply personal and often difficult, and nurses who devote their lives to serving their community should never have to worry about the cost of a tank of gas to drive home from their patient’s home, or a second or third job exercise to ensure they can take care of their own children.

As we celebrate Home Care and Hospic Month this November, I’m being reminded why I continue to show up and speak up for the home healthcare industry and the hundreds of thousands of Texans we serve. Life is unpredictable, and you never know when you or a loved one may need ongoing medical attention. When that time comes, I believe you should have a choice about where to get that care. I am fighting to ensure our industry survives so we are still here to provide healthcare in the place you love most – at home.

Rachel Hammon is executive director of the Texas Association of Home Care & Hospice.