To become certified, prospective home care workers in Washington must be tested on what they’ve learned in their 75 required hours of training. But many face challenges even before they get to the test — a would-be caregiver might have to drive several hours to a site at a scheduled time they didn’t choose.
Senate Bill 5278, introduced by Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, would require state departments to address some of those barriers, including testing delays and a lack of test sites. The bill follows a state audit released in September that detailed difficulties and frustrations prospective workers faced in becoming certified, leading to a worsening shortage of caregivers needed for a growing population of older adults and people with disabilities.
“We are all aware of the silver tsunami that’s coming,” Wilson said at a hearing before the Senate Health & Long Term Care Committee in Olympia on Jan. 26. “The population of Washington residents that are 65 and older is increasing daily.”
Two other House bills that address home care worker shortages and barriers to testing and certification are scheduled for committee hearings next week.
Home care workers assist clients with daily activities like preparing meals or driving to appointments, allowing many to live at home rather than moving to a long-term care facility. Experts estimate the number of professional caregivers statewide will need to grow by 50% by 2025 to meet the needs of the 1.5 million Washingtonians who will be 65 and older.
Bea Rector, assistant secretary of the state Department of Social and Health Services’ Aging and Long-Term Support Administration, said in her 30-plus years of working in long-term care, she’s never seen the workforce crisis as bad as it is today.
“We do need to do work to make the system more accessible, while balancing the need for measuring competencies of the workforce and ensuring high-quality care for older adults and people with disabilities who really rely on this care in order to meet their daily living needs,” she said at the hearing.
Fifteen test sites are throughout Washington — a 20% decrease from 2016 — and nearly all are concentrated in the Puget Sound region. Home care providers and advocates at the hearing spoke of long trips, and other problems, to get to the sites. One recounted driving a worker from Silverdale to Bellevue, only to find out the test had been canceled.
Under the proposed bill, the state Department of Health, in consultation with the Department of Social and Health Services, would have to create a system that allows applicants to test at their training location and let them schedule their own tests, and allow remote testing within training programs.
The departments would need to look at challenges related to testing sites and develop a plan to increase its number, taking into account applicants’ travel times and whether prospective workers in some areas of the state would benefit from travel stipends.
A preliminary report of the departments’ work would be due in December and a final report due by June 2024.
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