Virginia Home Healh Aides are Pretty Much Invisible


If you’re a home care aide reading this, you damn sure know nobody ever got rich or famous doing what you do. The work is taxing, the money, paltry. And insult to injury, save for your co-workers, clients and their loved ones, you’re pretty much invisible.

Unless you work in Virginia, where starting last summer, invisible would be a step up.

Emboldened last winter by a lame-duck US Department of Justice and paucity of significant political resistance, the Republican-dominated General Assembly baked into the commonwealth’s 2016-17 budget a provision to abolish overtime pay for most of Virginia’s home health-care workers.

Not only does the measure reflect the governing body’s willingness to help balance deficit budgets on the backs of the working class (only those working in costly Northern Virginia start out at more than the $9.22 hourly wage set by Medicaid) it likewise (a) flies in the face of studies indicating substantial savings when comparing independent with institutional living, (b) violates the spirit if not the letter of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and (c) has predictably resulted in a slow but perceptible exodus from the field.

The only exception to the ban on overtime compensation is for caregivers who work on a live-in basis; still those hours require approval by miserly commonwealth employees and are compensated at the standard rate, not time-and-a-half.

Anecdotal but common accounts depict the struggles many Virginians with disabilities are experiencing as they try to maintain their pre-July levels of care. In some cases dedicated aides work without pay once their 40 hours are logged – gracious but unsustainable efforts to insulate their clients from the brunt of the changes.

This turn of events is an abrupt reversal of earlier gains made on behalf of home-care workers. The Department of Labor in 2013 recognized their contributions to both their clients and the economic greater good, mandating a higher minimum wage and overtime.

Trumpeting the measures, Jodi Sturgeon, president of Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, noted at the time: “This is a tremendous victory for home care aides, a workforce earning near-poverty wages while providing vital personal care and health-related services to America’s elders and people with disabilities.”

But the victory was short-lived: implementation of the new standards was delayed until just last year, buying time for calculating state legislatures such as those in Virginia to mobilize resistance and play a waiting game with the Administration.

And it worked.

After two attempts to modify the overtime ban, Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration has signaled its reluctance to try again.

Lacking a successful third challenge from the governor’s office, the Republicans in Richmond will likely face minimal blowback for what they’ve done to the state’s home health-care industry.

Meanwhile, Virginia’s home-care aids are already back to being pretty much invisible.

Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister and substance abuse counselor living in Blacksburg, Va. Email

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2016

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