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Michigan lawmakers hiked wages for direct care workers. Some think it's not enough.

Critics say State should do more to secure these essential workers
Nursing homes using eviction to drop patients
Posted at 8:50 PM, Mar 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-16 10:19:06-04

LANSING, Mich. — It’s a position that is increasing in demand in Michigan. Direct-care workers are needed to care for the elderly and people with disabilities.

Michigan State University researchers say the state needs nearly 40,0000 more direct care workers to meet the needs of an aging population.

One possible reason for the shortage is low pay. The average home health worker in Michigan makes $11.58 an hour, according to the most recent federal data.

Last week, state lawmakers moved to remedy that issue by raising the direct care workers' wages by $2.25 an hour.

The temporary increase is part of the state’s pandemic response to essential workers.

Still some say, that’s not enough.

State Sen. Jeff Irwin, D - Ann Arbor, would like to see the base wage for these workers go up to $15 an hour.

“Every one of us as taxpayers ought to be embarrassed by this. These people are doing public work on behalf of the people to care for our most vulnerable folks and we don’t treat them with respect," Irwin said.

Melissa Samuel, president and CEO of the Health Care Association of Michigan, agrees, saying pay is only one part of the equation and more should be done to find and retain these workers.

“Finding these individuals. Making a career path for them. I think that’s also critically important. There’s a couple things that we are working on as an organization. There’s some legislation that we have," Samuel said.

The Health Care Association of Michigan represents about 35,000 workers in the direct care field. The organization is working to create apprenticeships and skill development opportunities for people who would like to become certified.

Samuel says many companies pay higher wages for workers with more certifications.

“Of course you’d complete the apprenticeship and then it would come with pay increases as well as you completed the program. So those are, I think those are the tools we really need to focus on to attract individuals into the profession and make sure they are getting good wages and make sure there’s a strong career path for them as well," Samuel said.

The current pay increase is in effect until the end of September.

Not everyone is thrilled about this effort, with some saying it would cost the state too much and the money could be used for other things like improving roads.