Legislation to address our PCA shortages, while helping college students

Minnesota faces a severe shortage of personal care assistants (PCA’s) throughout the state. According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, personal care and service positions have 10,155 vacancies as of the second quarter of 2019. The gap between the amount of available positions and workers seeking employment is expected to worsen because of the boomer generation’s retirement and increasing medical needs. Areas outside of the metropolitan area feel the impact of the shortage to a greater extent, leaving the people of Greater Minnesota with few options. 

Legislation was heard this week to create a new program, called the Direct Care Service Corps Pilot Project, which encourages postsecondary students from around the state to work as PCA’s. In 2018, the Legislature developed a work plan to expand and diversify the PCA workforce through increasing wages and training. The work plan raised minimum wages, but the consistent shortage demonstrates the need for continued efforts to assist the sector. Students would provide a much-needed influx of workers into the industry and alleviate the immediate impacts of the worker shortage. The program is beneficial to postsecondary students as they would receive financial incentives for their service as well as valuable work experience. Students can help their community through directed service while receiving financial benefits and closing a gap in the labor market. 

The problem of unfilled positions in the personal care industry is critical because it directly impacts the elderly and people with disabilities. When people in need are unable to receive their required care, many are forced into group or nursing homes. Family and friends may also take off work or reduce their hours to compensate for the care that their loved ones should be receiving from PCA’s. Without programs to encourage more workers to enter the sector, those in need and their loved ones are burdened with inadequate healthcare and financial stress. 

The Directed Care Service Corps legislation would be established through a grant to Healthforce Minnesota to oversee pilot programs. The pilots would primarily take place in the seven-county metropolitan area, with at least one pilot outside of the area. The compensation for students would increase relative to their time spent with the program, in an effort to raise retention rates. Healthforce Minnesota would report any findings to the Legislature, including changes in health care costs, retention of personal care assistants, and patient’s and provider’s satisfaction of care.

If passed, the program would offer the benefits of providing additional job opportunities for students while ensuring adequate care for people with disabilities and the elderly in Minnesota. (SF 2080)