Nurse Shortage Puts Vermont Parents on the Hook for Kids' Care

  1. Apparently, my state can't find private duty nurses.

    Natalie Briggs spent the first six months of her life in hospitals. Born at 30 weeks with an extra chromosome, she couldn't breathe or swallow on her own. She was deaf. Doctors predicted she'd be permanently confined to a hospital bed.

    Now nearly 8 years old, Natalie has short brown hair and a big grin. She is walking, learning sign language and living at home with her parents in Shelburne, although she still breathes through a tube in her throat. Another tube delivers food and water directly to her stomach.

    "She has to have eyes on her 24 hours a day to maintain her airway, monitor her for seizures," explained her mother, Amelia Briggs.

    Amelia and her husband, Will, rely on nurses to help care for their daughter. The state determined that the family needed 112 hours of home nursing a week — and that Medicaid, the federal insurance program for those with low incomes and disabilities, should pay for it.

    But the young couple says they receive only 70 hours of care a week. They take turns monitoring their daughter at night, each picking up a four-hour shift. On July 26, Amelia was on duty from 3 a.m. to 10 p.m., while Will, a software engineer, worked.

    The Briggs' plight isn't unique.

    For the last 20 years, the United States has suffered a nursing shortage, a problem that's expected to worsen as baby boomers age. The crisis is especially acute for home health agencies that provide nurses for families such as the Briggs, because they compete for employees with higher-paying hospitals and doctors' offices.

    "It is challenging to provide that level of service, especially in a climate where there's a nursing shortage," said Judy Peterson, president and CEO of the VNA of Chittenden & Grand Isle Counties, but "we're trying very hard to do just that."

    Despite that effort, the dearth of home health nurses is putting Vermont families with medically fragile children in an untenable situation, forcing them to forgo sleep, sacrifice careers and spend more time in hospitals. Advocates argue that neither the home health agencies nor the state has acted with enough urgency.

    "The problem is that we're not compensating home health nurses at a rate that allows there to be enough of them to meet the needs of these kids with high needs, and so there's a shortage of nursing, particularly in the home and particularly nights and weekends," said Barbara Prine, an attorney with Vermont Legal Aid's Disability Law Project. "What that creates for these families who are dealing with really medically complicated kids is a tremendous amount of stress."
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  3. by   KelRN215
    This problem is not unique to Vermont. Private duty agencies pay crap and the pay rate is typically flat. You make the same if you're a new grad or a nurse with 30 years experience or if you've worked for the agency for 10 days or 10 years.

    A similar article about the issue in your neighbor to the south: Underpaid nurses costing families MassHealth home care | Boston 25 News
  4. by   llg
    At least the people in Massachusetts acknowledge that the real problem is that home health nurses are underpaid -- and don't just say there is a nursing shortage, which while technically correct, is misleading.

    Everyone wants these patients to have a private nurse at home -- but nobody wants to pay what a nurse is worth on the market.
  5. by   Kooky Korky
    Very sad.

    But there is no shortage of nurses, only a shortage of nurses willing to work for low pay and for poor benefits.

    How do other countries deal with this?
  6. by   caliotter3
    I suspect that in other countries if a family wants a patient to get care at home instead of in an institution, the family must provide that care itself.
  7. by   smartnurse1982
    I liked the article but doctors offices typically pay even lower than Private Duty.