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Caregiver Shortage Puts Iowans with Disabilities in Tough Spot

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Thursday, October 21, 2021   

WATERLOO, Iowa -- Advocates for Iowans with disabilities are sounding the alarm over what they describe as a caregiver crisis, pleading with lawmakers to give the issue more priority, so these individuals are not pushed from their homes because of the scarcity of providers.

Tucker Cassidy, a person with quadriplegia from Waterloo, said the workforce shortage has been building for years, but in the past month and a half, it has become much worse.

He noted it is difficult for the agency he works with to send over enough caregivers to help with his daily routine. Stuck in bed more than he is used to, Cassidy admitted the shortage leaves him worried about his future.

"Is this going to be the week that they kick me off?" Cassidy questioned. "And then, where am I supposed to go? You know, I own my own house."

Advocates say the crisis is largely driven by low wages for caregivers. According to Indeed, the average starting pay for in-home caregivers in Iowa is around $13 an hour.

Lutheran Services in Iowa estimates it has been forced to reduce its client base by 350 in recent years. The shortage comes as Iowa touts a budget surplus of $1.24 billion.

Matt Grillot of DeWitt has used a wheelchair most of his life due to a spinal injury. He has been in his own house for the past 18 years, but he has struggled to hire a caregiver in recent months, forcing him to consider alternatives he would rather avoid.

"I have broken down within the last month and started looking at nursing homes and group homes," Grillot acknowledged.

But he said he faces barriers in moving to those places, adding to his stress in planning his care.

Cody Lewton, director of services for people with disabilities at Lutheran Services in Iowa, said they are down roughly 250 caregivers, citing the struggle to pay them enough money.

"It's less than a living wage, and it's only become worse," Lewton observed. "The funding has, over the last 20 years really, has not kept up with the cost of living."

The Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council said it is also concerned about the crisis, adding it will be the group's number one legislative priority next session.

Disclosure: Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council contributes to our fund for reporting on Disabilities, Health Issues, Mental Health. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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