Massachusetts’s PCA Shortage Is Getting Worse

CW: Institutionalization

Tara Lynn Southard arrived at the Boston Public Library’s Mattapan branch on a mission in late April. She was holding a stack of flyers in her hands. The flyers indicated she needed a part time PCA. The requirements included must wearing a mask, being okay with service dogs; and be able to work up to 20 hours, mostly at night. However, people didn’t need to have a vehicle of their own.

Southard is a wheelchair user. She lives alone on the boundary of Jamaica Plain and Roxbury. She had been without a personal care attendant for a month after her previous PCA resigned after only two weeks. PCAs assist her with daily tasks such as getting out of bed and into the shower, dressing, cooking, and laundry.

She felt compelled to act because the labor shortage had become so severe. She took those fliers to an event held by the union 1199SEIU, which represents PCAs and other healthcare employees.She still does not have a PCA two months later.

The struggle to find and retain personal care attendants, who enable disabled people to live their lives outside of institutions, is shared by thousands of disabled people across the state, including Southard. More than 40,000 disabled rely on the MassHealth program, but advocates say low wages have contributed to a serious shortage of PCAs in recent years, leaving many vulnerable people without the care they require.

I am one of the thousands of Massachusetts residents who rely on the PCA program. I have received PCA services for over a decade. Nearly three years ago, I moved into my own apartment.

My PCA provides around-the-clock support. Moving out would have been impossible without the PCA program. Without it, many disabled people could be forced to live in nursing homes or other residential settings.

Unfortunately, I have experienced the shortage firsthand. I had three different PCAs during three semesters of college. The lack of dependable PCAs added to my stress. I didn’t want to be worried about getting to class on time or using the bathroom.

I had recently started college and wanted to concentrate on my studies. I felt rushed while on campus. In particular, I wouldn’t have much time to eat, or socialize because my PCA would often rush me to get back home.

All disabled people deserve to be a part of their community, and the proper support allows us to do that. We need to fix the shortage now because people’s lives depend on it. For millions of people worldwide, care can’t wait.


Smith, Meghan. “‘We’re in a Crisis’: PCA Shortage Is a Matter of Life and Death for People with Disabilities.” WGBH News, 30 May 2023,

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