home care bill

Sen. Faith Winter speaks during a rally in support of creating a Home Care Worker Bill of Rights on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022 outside of the state Capitol building in Denver, Colo. 

Home care workers in Colorado are fighting for a bill of rights to assure better pay and working conditions for those who provide aging adult and disability care.

State lawmakers and activists from Colorado Care Workers Unite and SEIU Local 105 gathered at the state Capitol Tuesday to demand the creation of a "Home Care Worker Bill of Rights" during next year’s legislative session. They want the legislation to cover personal care aides, home health aides and nursing assistants.

“This care industry is broken and it almost broke me,” said Melissa Benjamin, a home care worker of 20 years and founding member of Colorado Care Workers Unite. “This year, 60% of home care workers will leave this industry. It’s long past time to pay attention.”

While the specifics have not been decided, advocates said the bill of rights would include a higher minimum wage, protections from bad bosses, a right to safe workplaces, minimum benefits, such as paid time off, and decision-making power for workers to improve the home care industry.

Benjamin said low pay and unsafe working conditions are driving home care workers away in record-high numbers, creating a serious worker shortage. By 2028, Colorado will need to fill 116,100 job openings in direct care due to workers leaving the industry and the state’s elderly population increasing, according to the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute.

Cassandra Matthews, a leader at Colorado Care Workers Unite, said she worked in home care for 23 years before recently leaving the industry because she could not afford to support her family.

“We are at the frontlines taking care of disabled people, elderly people, people who have no one at home to help them. We are needed, but we are not getting paid,” Matthews said. “I worked 16 hours a day taking care of other people’s families and not having time to take care of my own, because that’s the only way that I could afford to pay my bills. It’s not right.”

Another health care worker of 40 years, Angie Fulmer, said she’s had employers refuse to pay her for staying at a patient’s house too long even when they were suffering life-threatening medical conditions, and had employers threaten to revoke her care license for refusing to visit patients after she was exposed to COVID-19.

A formal bill title has not yet been filed in the legislature, but advocates said 39 Democratic lawmakers already signed on in support of the "Home Care Worker Bill of Rights," including Sen. Faith Winter, Rep. Lisa Cutter, Rep. Emily Sirota, Rep. Kyle Mullica and Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez — in addition to over a dozen candidates currently running for office.

“We have heard over and over again the challenges that our home health care workers are facing,” Winter said. “Low wages, bad conditions, wage theft, companies that don’t treat them fair. They provide health care, but don’t have their own insurance. They don’t have paid sick days. They don’t have paid time off. ...  That is unfair.”

Colorado Care Workers Unite has been seeking changes in the state’s home care industry for seven years, previously bringing forward Senate Bill 19-238 in 2019 to increase the minimum wage for qualifying home care workers to $12.41 and raise reimbursement rates.

Advocates said the 2019 bill was a good step forward, but there is still much work to be done to make the home care industry sustainable for workers. The 2019 bill passed with some bipartisan approval.

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