Pandemic worsens home care shortage, leaving many seniors in limbo
ATLANTA - Hill and Bonnie Latham, both 84, have been married 63 years. Hill Latham has Parkinson's disease and dementia, and he gets around the house in a wheelchair. To stay together, in their Dunwoody, Georgia home, the Lathams need help.
So, Bonnie hired Andrea Fuller's company, Full Heart Home Care, which opened in 2019, months before the pandemic hit.
They help bathe, groom, dress and feed Hill, Bonnie says, and will help her with laundry and housekeeping.
"We couldn't exist at home without the caregivers, there is just no way," Bonnie Latham says.
Bonnie Latham, who has undergone knee surgery, says Fuller's team helps Latham get up each morning and puts him into bed each night.
"He cannot get up out of the bed," Bonnie Latham says. "He cannot raise himself up off the bed. So, I rented the lift in order to, they put a vest on him, and then pull him around and attach it to the lift, and then they just pull him right up."
They have a daily routine, Latham says.
"She shaves him," she says. "She brushes his teeth. I cook his breakfast. She sits with him while he eats because sometimes he'll get kind of choked."
Andrea Fuller, owner of Full Heart Home Care, with her clients Hill and Bonnie Latham in Dunwoody, Georgia
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But, two years into the pandemic, Andrea Fuller says it is getting harder to find employees willing to work in her clients' homes.
"Staffing is a huge, huge problem right now," Fuller says. "I'm struggling to serve current clients, and certainly cannot take on new clients without something changing."
Fuller says she offers a competitive salary, but finding people willing to work in home health care has been challenging.
Before the pandemic, Fuller says, certified nursing assistants or personal care assistants in Georgia were earning -- on average -- just over $11.50 an hour.
But, when hospitals were hit hard and needed health care workers, they offered higher salaries and hazard pay, driving the average salary up to $13 to $14 an hour.
And, she says, home health aids have left the business, to stay home with their children, or find jobs that pay more.
"I, for the last year, have spent almost nothing on marketing or advertising, and yet my phone is ringing, people are looking for services," Fuller says. "So, if I had had access to as many staff people as I needed, my business would probably be double the size it is right now.
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Last fall, Fuller hired a fulltime recruiter, just to hire caregivers.
She says they have only managed to find 4 new employees in the last two months.
So, when they're short-staffed, she fills in, helping clients like the Lathams.
"I'm probably working an average of 15 to 20 hours a week in clients' homes," Fuller says.
For now, Fuller, who has about 30 clients on her roster, has to tell new clients she cannot help them.
"It's hard, and it's really personal for me," Fuller says. "I really want to help every person that calls looking for services. But, I'm first committed to the people I've told we'll provide them services. So, my first obligation is to current clients."
Bonnie Latham says she is grateful for the help caring for Hill.
"That is what is letting us stay here," Latham says. "I don't ever want to take him away. I want him to stay here, forever."
This month, Andrea Fuller says she was forced to raised her rates for her existing clients like the Lathams.
It is something, she says, she had been putting off for months.