Survival Mode

Medical educator Charlotte Hopkins and her associates train future certified nursing assistants, or CNAs, at Hopkins’ Marina office.

It’s a recipe for a crisis. An aging population boom, low wages, high housing costs and changing regulations are combining to create a serious shortage of caregivers in Monterey County. And the projection is that it’s only going to get worse, leaving senior and disabled patients with less than optimum care and family members scrambling to fill in.

In Monterey County the situation “went over the edge” last July after care facilities statewide were required by the California Department of Public Health to increase the number of hours they use certified nursing assistants, says Charlotte Hopkins, a licensed vocational nurse, educator and owner of Creative Medical Education and Training Solutions in Marina. She was receiving calls daily from facilities desperate to meet the requirement. Recognizing that there aren’t enough CNAs to go around, CDPH is allowing facilities in Monterey County to apply for waivers protecting them from fines, but that ends in July.

The state’s Employment Development Department is projecting a need for more than 713,000 personal care aides in homes by 2024, up from 525,000 in 2014, a 36-percent increase. They also project a need for 45,700 home health aides, up from 33,000.

A November 2017 study by the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education calls California’s shortages a crisis, citing an aging population, a shift to home care from skilled nursing facilities and poverty-level wages reasons for the gap.

“We are definitely crawling up a big hill,” Sadie Kvenild, co-owner of Peggy’s Home Care in Carmel Valley told a group of representatives from the Monterey County Social Services Department, skilled nursing facilities, home care agencies and nonprofits last July. “The need is so extreme, we really have to do big things and get creative.”

The representatives came together in 2017 as a subcommittee of HOME Collaborative (Housing Options Meaningful to Seniors). Calling themselves Caregiver Solutions Tri-County – encompassing Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties – members set about creating their own CNA training for people who need a job but can’t afford classes. Their goal was to find people who are a good fit for the career and then offer scholarships to cover the cost of the $1,000 month-long course. Currently there are five scholarships available.

The group received approval from the California Department of Public Health for its course on Jan. 15, and expects to start with 15 students next month. Five will enroll with state-funded scholarships. The five-day-a-week course lasts a month, and, at the end, students who pass a test are eligible for employment as CNAs.

Hopkins says it’s the lowest-priced course in Monterey County, and includes books, a background check, insurance, exams, a uniform and other expenses.

“The only thing students will have to pay for out of pocket is shoes and a watch,” Hopkins says. “In 32 days they’ll be employable.”

Some skilled nursing facilities are offering hiring bonuses to new employees, but pay is relatively low. Hourly rates for CNAs in Monterey County range between $14 and $17, and between $12 and $17 an hour for home health aides.

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