GREENSBORO, N.C. — Private duty nurses continue to fight for higher wages to end the pay gap and hiring shortage.
Sophia McConkey is 4 years old and lives with a rare condition called TBCK. When she was diagnosed, doctors said she was the only person in the United States living with the condition.
Her mother, Rachel McConkey, and grandmother, Julie Crockett, take care of her each day and night. She also receives care from her private duty nurse, JoEllen Rivas, five days a week.
Sophia McConkey still requires extra care for her fragile medical condition. She experiences seizures and breathes through a tracheotomy tube. She also has a feeding tube. Leaving her home to go to a doctor’s appointment requires both Crockett and Rivas’ help to ensure she is safe and comfortable.
“I work my full-time job, then I’m her nurse Saturday and Sunday, and it’s exhausting,” Crockett said.
In order for Rivas to have a day off from work, there has to be a nurse who can cover. The lack of staffing makes that extremely difficult. The wage disparity is another challenge too.
“I myself work 50 hours a week to make what I should be making in 40,” Rivas said.
Rivas has seen nurses leave private duty work to go to a hospital or long-term care facility. Nurses in those jobs can earn up to $15 per hour more than private duty nurses. They’re still asking lawmakers to make a change to fight this.
Medicaid is funded by both state and federal governments. Programs and services offered can vary state to state. Medicaid requires all states to offer coverage for nursing home care, but home care is deemed optional, even though it often costs less than nursing home care.
In March 2020, North Carolina was granted a temporary 5% increase in funding for all home care programs. In April 2020, all home care programs, except for private duty nursing, were given another 10% of temporary funding, further widening the pay gap for private duty nurses.
State lawmakers continue legislative talks on a new state budget, which was supposed to go into effect on July 1. In the House’s latest budget plan, they included a pay increase that would boost private duty nursing wages by about $4 per hour. Although both House and Senate need to agree on this increase, if it is passed, the pay boost would go into effect in October.
Rivas enjoys her job, but she says having a decent living wage is important.
“Fortunately, I love what I do. I’ve really grown to love this family, so it works itself out,” Rivas said.
Home health care agency Bayada continues to advocate for an increase in funding for private duty nurses.