Local Home Care Agencies Prepare for Growth

Crissa Shoemaker DeBree

Posted on January 20, 2013

Holy Redeemer is expanding. But you won't find evidence of that expansion in a larger hospital or more beds.

Instead, Holy Redeemer is growing in the last place you'd expect to find it: your home.

Holy Redeemer HomeCare, which provides in-home care to patients and their families in Bucks, Philadelphia and Montgomery counties, is expanding.

Over the past several months, the Abington-based medical center has hired more than a dozen employees to serve its growing customer base and help it expand into new areas.

The growth in Holy Redeemer's home care services comes as the demand for home-based care — and the people to provide such care — grows.

Nearly 1.9 million home health and personal aide jobs existed in 2010, a number that's expected to increase by 70 percent over the next decade, according to the most recent data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook.

The median pay in 2010 was just over $20,000, which was slightly higher than minimum wage. Wages are typically low, employers say, because the jobs generally don't require advanced skills or certifications.

In Pennsylvania — which has a state minimum wage and overtime is mandated if the person works it — the hourly wage is about $9.80 for home-care workers and personal aides, according to PHI, an organization that lobbies for better wages for care workers.

Some agencies, like Holy Redeemer, hire their aides as employees. Others employ independent contractors who can work for multiple firms.

In a survey released Friday, Caregiverlist.com, a senior care website, found Philadelphia is one of the top cities for senior caregiver employment. More than 4,000 caregivers and certified nurse assistants are hired monthly from the site's listing, the survey found.

"People are aging in place," said Kim Fitzsimmons, director of Holy Redeemer Support at Home, the hospital's home care division. "They don't want to go to facilities or assisted living. They want to stay in their own home. Also, hospital care stays are shorter, and people are coming out sicker than they had been in the past. They need help."

Fitzsimmons said Holy Redeemer has "an ongoing need" for home care aides, particularly in Bucks County. The agency has about 200 employees and almost as many clients. In the fall, the agency held a recruitment drive aimed at hiring new aides.

"We are starting the process of growing," Fitzsimmons said. "We're looking to keep people safe at home, keep their dignity and provide quality, compassionate care. That's part of Holy Redeemer's brand and motto — care, comfort and heal."

Holy Redeemer declined to specify how much it pays home-care aides, but the hospital said in an email, "In this role, it is critical to get an individual with the right skill set. Holy Redeemer maintains a compensation package that allows us to recruit and retain these valuable employees."

Tom Krupp, a partner in a Home Helpers home-care franchise serving Bucks and Montgomery counties, Northeast Philadelphia and the Lehigh Valley, agreed that demand for such services continues to increase — even after his agency reduced the number of clients on the federal Medicaid waiver program because of changes to funding rates, Krupp said.

"We've continued to go through a tremendous amount of growth," said Krupp, who added that this past week may have been the busiest in his history in terms of hours worked. His Home Helpers franchise has about 270 employees who serve a "couple hundred" clients. Visits range from a few hours to around-the-clock care.

Krupp said the decision was made early on to invest in employees, and he said his agency pays "well over" minimum wage and also pays overtime.

"Turnover is a problem in this industry (because of low wages)," Krupp said. "We feel that, in terms of longevity, turnover and quality of our caregivers, pay has something to do with getting good ones."

As the demand for home care grows, so does the competition.

In June, human services provider Liberty Lutheran and the Lutheran Community at Telford, a continuing care retirement community, announced they would create a new home health care agency called Liberty at Home. And Executive Care, a nationwide franchise providing skilled medical and non-medical care, is targeting Bucks County and the Philadelphia suburbs for growth.

"The level and the amount of competition in this business is insane at times," Krupp said. "It's very easy to get into this business. The challenge is, it's very difficult to do right. One of my concerns of this industry going forward is the reputation that gets maintained. I'm always worried about that."

Holy Redeemer's Fitzsimmons said the ideal candidates for home care aides have experience in proper caring techniques for patients, and can pass the required criminal background check. But compassion is also a necessity for the job.

"We want to put quality people in the homes," she said. "We have a very strict hiring process. We want to make sure we're putting somebody in the home that's not only compassionate and qualified, but they're safe to be in the home with the elderly, who are so vulnerable."