Owen Dybvig is like most 21-year-olds. He wants to move out and pursue his hobbies. Dybvig hopes to make new friends and become more independent as well.
For Dvybig figuring out how to live an independent life is more challenging. He has Cerebral Palsy and uses a wheelchair to get around. In addition, he is nonverbal and relies on an AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) app on his iPad to communicate. His family has been struggling to find PCAs to assist him with activities of daily living.
Not having PCAs means Owen has accompanied his father to various construction sites around Vermont since this past summer. Evan Dyvbig works for Geobarns. The Hartford-based construction firm specializes in “post-and-beam” building construction.
This frustrates Owen immensely. He wants to do something productive with his life. Eventually, he hopes to take college courses online. Of particular interest to him are courses in web design and blogging.
Vermont’s nine home health agencies, according to Angela Smith-Dieng, head of the Adult Services Division of the Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging, and Independent Living, are all experiencing a shortage. Low wages are a contributing factor.
As of 2021, Vermont pays caregivers an average of $33,810 annually. Hourly pay for these positions is $16.25. A survey by Business.org found that this amount is still 36.7% lower than the mean wage for all occupations in Vermont. The mean yearly salary in Vermont is $53,420.
Unfortunately, this issue isn’t unique to Vermont. Low wages are an issue across the country. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average home healthcare worker in the United States made just $13.02 per hour in 2021. Furthermore, according to the New York Times, one in five home healthcare professionals lives in poverty.
Vermont’s shortage is particularly severe, Smith-Dieng, says. Vermont has one of the oldest populations in the country, and the population is quickly aging, which implies that an increasing number of people are aging out of the workforce. Therefore, they are not being replaced at a sustainable rate. In this statistic, New Hampshire is not far behind Vermont, nor is Maine.
As a 23-year-old with CP like Dyvbig, I have experienced the shortage firsthand. In three semesters of college, I had three different PCAs. The lack of reliable PCAs caused me additional stress every day. I had just begun college and wanted to focus on my academics.
Owen Dybvig, who qualifies for long-term care Medicaid, has a few alternatives for obtaining state money and services under Vermont’s Choices for Care program, including at home or an Adult Family Care home. The home provider that provides AFC houses owns and lives there and offers around-the-clock assistance and care for people in a “family setting.”
Owen graduated from Thetford Academy in 2021. Soon after, he went into an Adult Family Care home. Still, his father felt it wasn’t a good fit. He left, forcing the family to admit him to Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend, Vt., before bringing him home in December.
Above all, home healthcare workers help people to stay in their communities with friends and family. Disabled adults like Owen deserve to be independent and live where they want. This is a universal problem that needs to be addressed. Care can’t wait, because people’s lives depend on it.
Barton, April. “Caregivers Are Paid Better in Vermont than Elsewhere, but Still Well below Other Jobs.” Burlington Free Press, Gannett, 29 June 2021, https://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/news/2021/06/29/vermont-ranks-number-2-caregiver-pay-still-below-average-wages/7793483002/.
Couture, Ray. “Thetford 21-Year-Old with Cerebral Palsy Yearns for Independence with a Bit of Support.” Valley News, Newspapers of New England, 6 Jan. 2023, https://www.vnews.com/Thetford-man-with-cerebral-palsy-struggles-to-find-caregiver-48858119.
Donovan, Liz, and Muriel Alarcón. “Long Hours, Low Pay, Loneliness and a Booming Industry.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 Sept. 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/25/business/home-health-aides-industry.html.
“Home Health and Personal Care Aides: Occupational Outlook Handbook.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 8 Sept. 2021, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/home-health-aides-and-personal-care-aides.htm.