Lower wages and burnout worsening home nursing shortage for families

Families with medically dependent children, and seniors who require care at home, are struggling to find home care nurses. Lower wages and burnout, however are making the nursing shortage worse.

Advocates say home nursing care wages, often paid through Medicaid and set by the state, are just too low to keep nurses and nursing assistants in the profession.

RELATED: 'It absolutely is a crisis:' nursing homes struggling to maintain staff looking to lawmakers

Caroline and Stan Cheevers knew their calling.

"If I can somehow make their life a little better that day, that meant so much to me," said Stan Cheevers.

They adopted four medically dependent children who need round-the-clock nursing care.  

"There's Haley," Caroline Cheevers, tells us, "She was shaken repeatedly and thrown against a wall at four months old. She has a 90% brain matter loss."

Eva is also a shaken baby survivor.

"She is total-care, does not regulate her blood pressure, heart rate, or body temperature," said Caroline Cheevers.  

RELATED: Houston-area nurses experiencing 'compassion fatigue' amid spike in hospitalizations, staff shortages

Justin has a rare genetic disorder.

"He has over 200 seizures a day. He is hearing and vision impaired, and has severe lung issues," listed Caroline.  

RELATED: Will 'compassion fatigue' and surge in COVID-19 cases discourage aspiring nursing students?

They recently lost their eldest son, Tyler, also a shaken baby survivor.  

And since the pandemic, they've lost half of their home nursing care to the growing nursing shortage.

"Several nights a week, I have zero night nursing. So it requires me to be awake day and night for days at a time, tending to them, giving medications, monitoring vital signs," said Caroline.  

RELATED: Nursing shortage affecting hospitals across the nation amid COVID-19 pandemic

"It takes a toll on your body. And emotionally, knowing you’re on your own for a child that requires so much care can be scary," she said.

"The pandemic exponentially worsened the issue and accelerated the problem, such that the nurses are experiencing burnout.  They’re experiencing higher pay in certain areas, like hospitals," said Rachel Hammon, Executive Director of the Texas Association for Home Care and Hospice.

"Burnout for sure.  I think a lot of nurses are tired, really tired. And the pay is not that great either," said Kelsey Gold, one of the Cheevers' home care nurses.

Hammon says less home care results in more patients getting sick and landing in hospitals.

"Children who are stuck in hospitals because hospitals don’t want to discharge the child home, because there’s no nurse there to support and help the family to care for the child," said Hammon.  

MORE: UH honoring nurses, encouraging aspiring students

It's leaving families more than exhausted.  

"It’s frustrating because I feel like we’re an invisible group," said Cheevers.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission recently increased the personal attendant base wage to $8.11 per hour.  Advocates say that's not enough to recruit more attendants.