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New report says Maine needs thousands of more workers to provide approved care for older Mainers

Health aide wearing blue scrubs and stethoscope helping older man holding cane
Maine Public

A progressive-leaning policy group said the state needs thousands of additional full-time workers to provide home care for older Mainers and people with disabilities and behavioral health challenges.

Maine has a shortage of roughly 2,300 direct care workers, according to the new analysis released Tuesday from the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP).

More than 23,000 hours of approved home care for older adults goes undelivered each week due to workforce shortages, according to the report. And hospitals around Maine have had to delay discharging patients because there are no nursing homes to send them to, said Arthur Phillips, an economic policy analyst for the Maine Center for Economic Policy.

"Fundamentally, this is really about ensuring the health and resilience of Maine people and our economy," he said. "We know that right now these shortages in this critical workforce are making that really difficult to secure."

The projected shortages are a conservative estimate, Phillips said, because they do not account for direct care workers who leave their jobs each year, or the thousands of additional workers that will be needed in the next few decades to meet a growing demand.

"It's a snapshot in time, and I think that it's fair to say that given our demographic profile, these needs are going to grow worse unless we find a way to attract and retain folks in direct care," Phillips said.

The share of Mainers age 65 and over is expected to increase by 7% over the next 25 years.

To better retain direct care professionals, Phillips said the state should increase the Maine Care reimbursement rate for these services so that workers earn 140% of the state minimum wage, which would translate to a raise of nearly $2 more an hour.

The new MECEP analysis builds on a report that the organization released last year. It found that turnover and burnout is high within the industry, primarily driven by low pay for direct care workers.