Gas prices hamper home care providersby Michael Caputo, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Stephanie Trancoso likes working as a personal care assistant - helping the disabled live independently.
"Everybody in my family is either cops or nurses," she said. "And I don't like running, so... I pick nurse."
Trancoso, 24, is driving a 12-year-old silver gray Ford Taurus which has duct tape holding a side view mirror in place and the "check engine" light glowing. And the reality is that gas prices are eating up what little she makes.
"I'm putting 20 bucks in my gas tank, every day," she said. "You can see I'm going to need to stop and get gas. And I just filled up yesterday."
After finishing a job with a disabled client in Edina, Trancoso stops at a gas station and pumps in another $20 worth, wondering how far it will go.
Trancoso gets reimbursed about $10 for that $20 she puts in the tank.
"I only get paid from client to client, I don't get paid from, say, my house to the first client, or from my last client back home," she said.
She plans to ask for more from the agency that employs her - the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living.
But many of the nearly 250 home care agencies around Minnesota say they can't afford to pay more for mileage, so some home health care providers are thinking about switching jobs.
Nurse Nancy Zhao does home care for children with disabilities. She lives in Minneapolis, a mile or two from three hospitals.
"Every night as I pass those places where I could be working and I drive 30 miles out to the suburbs to a client who needs me in their home," Zhao said. "Every night, or almost every night, I think about quitting, and going to one of those hospitals that's very close to me."
If that happens, people like Lance Hegland could have a harder time finding the home care they need.
Hegland has a form of muscular dystrophy that makes him reliant on a wheelchair, but he lives in a Minneapolis apartment, thanks to personal care aides like Sara Trapp who takes care of basic needs, like shaving.
Hegland said three shifts of personal care aides provide near round-the-clock care.
"Obviously if it weren't for Sara and the rest of my team, I would be in a nursing home," he said. "There really wouldn't be anywhere else for me to go."
Agencies say gas prices have become a growing factor in recruiting and retaining people to a job that pays little and offers modest benefits.
Bridgette Menger-Anderson runs the home health service at the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living. Menger-Anderson says the challenge of staffing home care shifts has forced her to say no to some clients with disabilities.
"We've had some people who have been long-term supporters of this agency that we've had to end relationships with because we couldn't provide any staffing to interview with, let alone hire," she said.
The state home care association says high gas prices are one of the top issues for the industry right now. And unless the state or federal government increases reimbursement, there's no relief in sight.
- All Things Considered, 06/05/2008, 5:35 p.m.