To The Daily Sun,
When a condominium collapsed in Florida this summer, tragically killing 98 people, evidence of structural issues, reports of overdue repairs, and emails between owners, contractors, and city officials surfaced, all demanding answers to the question “Could this have been prevented?” So many disasters are followed by reactionary tales of reform and bemoaning missed opportunities, whether intentionally or unintentionally ignored, to avoid the looming tragedy to begin with.
New Hampshire’s long-term care system as well as our front-line direct care workers in health care organizations is a condo waiting to collapse. We are slinging repairs that are decades in the making, identified in reports, studies, data — and yet here we are still sounding the alarm and waiting for the tragedy that will bring reform.
I get it. The country is in a workforce crisis. I struggle to empathize with our local employers and truly key partners in other sectors who are facing reduced revenue due to curtailing hours or closing completely due to the lack of staff. Our direct care workers work in organizations that cannot curtail hours and cannot reduce the census on the numbers we serve. If we don’t show up, people will die.
Our perfect storm has been brewing long before COVID-19. An aging state, young people leaving after high school and not returning, more demand on services with fewer people to serve was predicted. Exasperated by a pandemic? Sure. Precipitated by “too little too late” in the areas of workforce housing, affordable childcare, and a living wage built the momentum for this crisis long before the pandemic brought us a tsunami.
As long as we dare to compare the wages we are offering in health care-related businesses to the wages being advertised by the fast-food industry and major retailers, we are sending a clear message to not only the direct care workers but to the vulnerable citizens of New Hampshire that they support that they are not worthy of a profession staffed with well-trained professionals, trusted with their daily care, earning a career-inspiring wage. The provider reimbursement rates in New Hampshire require not incremental increases such as we saw in 2019 and 2020, after almost 15 years without any increases, but significant sweeping reimbursement reform, bringing the entire wage scale out of its current state.
Yes, we need workforce housing, childcare, transportation, but most importantly, we need action on wages, and we need it now. Do not wait for the condo to collapse. Call your state legislators and demand better for New Hampshire’s direct care workers before more nursing home beds close, before more home health agencies cannot meet demands and drive more people to our overflowing hospitals. Do it now before thousands in New Hampshire with developmental and physical disabilities are left home in dangerous situations, possibly even to die. We have had our warning, now we must demand that the structural damage be addressed, and no one can tell us in hindsight that they wished they had known. We know. We must act.