Better minimum wage, overtime protections for direct care workers

Nearly 2 million direct care workers now have minimum wage and overtime protections, thanks to a final rule extending the Fair Labor Standards Act to workers who provide care to elderly people and people with illnesses, injuries or disabilities, the U.S. Department of Labor announced Tuesday.

The rule kicks in Jan. 1, 2015 and will benefit direct care workers, including home health aides, personal care aides and certified nursing assistants.

"Direct care workers play a critical role in ensuring access to high-quality home care that many people need in order to remain healthy and independent in their communities, and they should be compensated fairly for this important work," U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in the announcement.

President Barack Obama first proposed the extended minimum wage and overtime protections nearly two years ago, the Associated Press reported.

While patient advocates say better minimum wage and overtime protections will enhance home care worker recruitment and retention, some Republican lawmakers maintain the final rule will increase costs and make it harder for elderly patients and their families to afford needed home care services, the AP noted.

The final rule comes as more Americans choose in-home long-term care over nursing homes or other facilities, making the home care field one of the fastest-growing professions. In the last month alone, the healthcare industry added 32,700 jobs, with the most gains--9,500 jobs--in home healthcare services.

The growing ranks of home healthcare workers could mean lower hospital readmission rates. Elderly patients who lacked support in a home health setting after a hospital stay fared worse than those who had a solid support system for self-care, according to study last year in the journal Advances in Nursing Science. The study found readmissions were related to home care patients' living arrangements, as well as the frequency and the type of care provided.

For more:
- check out the announcement
- read the AP article