Home Care Agencies Want State to Follow Its Own Rules
Owners of private in-home care agencies in Oregon are advocating for legislation that would add regulatory and training requirements for independent care workers registered under a new state program.
The in-home care agencies are pushing for House Bill 3145, which would require the state’s new Home Care Choice Program to follow the same requirements as the private industry to become a licensed caretaker agency.
A new law creating the Home Care Choice Program passed last session, expanding the Oregon Home Care Commission Registry and Referral System so that all Oregonians -- not just those on Medicaid – could use the registry to find a home care worker rather than go through a private agency. But, private agencies argue the state essentially created a new publicly-run agency that doesn’t have to follow the same rules as the private sector.
“The state in essence has decided to go in competition with private in-home care agencies but they are exempting themselves from all the rules and regulations,” said Kathleen Schonau, president of Aging Wisely with Heartfelt Hands.
Caretakers on the registry must pass a criminal and abuse background check, but don’t have to follow the rigorous training and continuing education requirements private agencies must adhere to.
“If you’re going to institute this program then, by golly, everyone listed on that and registered as an in-home care provider should have the same training as the folks who have been doing this a long time,” said state Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, sponsor of HB 3145, which would require care workers on the state registry to follow the same rules. .
If the case workers on the registry don’t have to complete the same training and vetting as home care workers employed by private agencies, it opens the door for potential harm to seniors, argue the private agencies.
“The very reason that we’re regulated is because we’re dealing with a vulnerable population,” said Toby Forsberg, CEO of Helping Hands Homecare in Portland. “It’s not about creating an even playing field. It’s not about competition. It’s about making sure that elderly people and dis-abled people are safe and remain safe.”
Forsberg said the state regulations “were extremely onerous and in depth, something that took us a year to gain because they wanted to make sure we knew what we were doing.”
But Melissa Unger, political director for SEIU, said the goal of the Home Care Choice Program was not to create a publicly-run home care agency but let people choose their own care workers by hiring from those on the registry. The state could handle payroll for those workers, but the person hiring the caregiver would remain the official employer.
“The goal of this was never to be in competition,” Unger said of the program that was supported by the union and has been running for the past year. “It was really to fill a different kind of need in our community.”
Unger told lawmakers that her union and state officials are willing to talk about requiring train-ing for registry workers but that the proposed bill would establish the state’s home care commis-sion, which oversees the registry, as a home care agency. The intent of the program, she said, is to give people the streamlined flexibility to hire their own care workers. But private in-home care business owners are still concerned.
“It’s really not just a matter of competition with private agencies,” Schonau said. “The question really is why does the legislature put these rules in place in the beginning and why aren’t they going to be there for this new program to protect seniors?”
The bill is sitting in the Joint Committee on Ways and Means Committee while the Department of Health and Human Services determines its fiscal impact.
“I think people agree with the policy,” McLane said. “I think the passage is going to depend upon how much DHS claims it will take in order to administer House bill 3145.”
Shelby can be reached at [email protected]