Nevada to create labor board to address issues within home care industry

By: - October 6, 2021 6:43 am

Legislation passed this year authorized the director of DHHS to adopt regulations recommended by a new board, which could include, according to the bill language, establishing a minimum wage for the industry. (Photo: April Corbin Girnus)

A booming industry infamous for paying workers low wages may soon answer to a new labor board — one that may have actual teeth behind it.

On Tuesday, a few dozen home care workers represented by SEIU Local 1107 gathered at the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services office to hand deliver a petition asking the state to create a Home Care Employment Standards Board, which was authorized by Senate Bill 340 during the 2021 Legislative Session. Once formed, the board will have the authority to investigate and make regulatory recommendations on matters related to wages and working conditions.

But beyond studying the issue and making recommendations, SB340 also authorized the director of DHHS to adopt regulations related to those recommendations, which could include, according to the bill language, establishing a minimum wage for the industry.

The bill also allows the department to penalize businesses found in violation.

The employment standards board will consist of the DHHS director, the Labor Commissioner, three representatives of home care employees, three representatives of home care employers, and three people who receive or represent people who receive clients. The DHHS will appoint all members.

DHHS Director Richard Whitley and fellow staff greeted the SEIU home care workers as they marched into the office to deliver the petition.

“I believe we share the same goal,” Whitley said to the crowd afterward, “to serve Nevadans who are most vulnerable. The work you do is essential in health care. You keep people living as independently as possible in their own homes, and I value you and the work you do.”

SB340 authorized the employment standards board to be created if 50 home care workers petitioned for it. The next step will be for Whitley’s team to meet with the petitioners to discuss wages and labor issues. That must be done within 30 days of receipt of the petition.

Then will come an investigation into those matters by the Labor Commissioner in preparation for the employment standards board’s first meeting.

Tracy Richards, a home care worker for 15 years who earns $13 per hour, said the board would “finally give us a seat at the table.”

An essential industry in demand

“We deserve a lot more respect,” said Safiyyah Abdulrahim, another one of the 166 home care workers to sign the petition. “A living wage.”

Abdulrahim currently earns $11.65 an hour. Six years ago, when she started as a home care worker, she made $10 an hour. Her employer does not provide health insurance, paid time off, or cover the cost of her annual required training.

The mother of three is hardly alone in her experience. According to a 2020 Guinn Center report on the industry:

  • The median hourly wage of a personal care aide in Nevada is $11.07
  • Just under one-third of personal care aides (32%) are insured by Medicaid
  • Nearly one-in-five (20%) are uninsured.

Abdulrahim worked throughout the pandemic, as home care workers were considered essential employees by the state.

One of Abdulrahim’s clients died of COVID-19, which was an emotional and anxiety-ridden experience for her, especially because she wasn’t getting proper personal protective equipment from her employer. She says she worried about bringing covid home to her own family, or spreading covid between clients.

“We didn’t sit down,” she said, referring to home care workers. “We didn’t sit down because (clients) still need things and they don’t have anyone else. Who else is going to do it?”

Between 2011 and 2018, Nevada’s 65 and older population increased by 40% and its 85 and older population increased by 25%, according to a report released earlier this year by the Center for Healthy Aging. Nevada’s elder population is expected to continue to rise substantially into 2030.

That likely means increased demand for home care workers — sometimes called personal care  aides — who provide in-home, non-medical support to clients who are unable to live completely independently. This can include bathing and grooming, shopping or meal prep, and light housework.

Nevada has approximately 13,000 personal care aides, according to the Guinn Center report. It is expected to need 5,300 more by 2026.

The Home Care Employment Standards Board may also look at industry recruitment or retention.

Personal care agencies and other industry representatives opposed the passage of SB340 during the legislative session. The bill passed on party lines.

At the time, the Personal Care Association of Nevada said their industry was being “unfairly targeted and maligned” and argued that the powers granted to the proposed board go beyond state law.

PCAN also pointed to low Medicaid reimbursement rates as one of the biggest factors in the industry’s employee wages. Personal care aides have one of the lowest Medicaid reimbursement rates of all covered services.

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April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus

April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, two children and two mutts.