March 18, 2021
The Biden Administration’s proposal to phase in a $15 Federal Minimum Wage in the COVID-19 Relief Fund may cause angst among long-term care administrators. The minimum wage has not increased since 2009 when it was increased to $7.25. It has been at this level for nearly 11 years despite the increased cost of living, including food and shelter post-pandemic. Opponents of the increase to minimum wage point to higher unemployment and layoffs as industries struggle to be profitable. In the case of long-term care, facilities may not be able to decrease the number of staff in response to an increased wage given the current profit margins resulting from a decreased census since the pandemic.
The lowest wage earners are disproportionately women, African Americans, and Hispanics. These are also the same people who provide the majority of frontline care in most skilled nursing and assisted living facilities. Wages have been stagnant among this group of workers, despite considerable growth in those with positions with very high earnings potential.
Researchers have been examining the indirect benefits of increasing the pay for the lowest wage earners including improving access to preventative medical care, decreasing “health-harming” products and improving job satisfaction, all of which have been shown to have positive benefits on health. Higher wages may have the unintended consequence of encouraging the purchase of cigarettes, alcohol and other products which may actually impair health status. Increased wages may afford individuals more leisure time allowing for including exercising or enhancing social contacts.
An increasingly healthy workforce, particularly frontline staff in long-term care may result in decreased missed days of work and less turnover of employees—two key factors impacting the quality of care in facilities.
Can efforts to improve the health of our staff positively impact the quality of life for our residents without creating a financial hardship for the organization?
Ilene Warner-Maron, PhD, RN-BC, CWCN, CALA, NHA, FCPP, is an assistant professor in the Department of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Dr Warner-Maron is also the executive director of the Eastern Pennsylvania Geriatric Society.
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- Leigh JP, Du J. Effects of minimum wages on population health. Health Aff blog. October 4, 2018. Accessed March 18, 2021. https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hpb20180622.107025/full/