Tennessee works to address shortage of nursing caregivers

Joseph Davis was near death in May when his son Matt was called from work early to attend to his dad's needs.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – There’s a shortage of caregivers in Tennessee right now, affecting hundreds if not thousands of people. A Knoxville family knows firsthand that there are not enough people to look after the elderly who are in need of care.

The state is aware of the problem and is trying to address it. The state says it has beefed up its efforts to recruit and keep qualified caregivers.

The state’s Choices program offers services to adults 21 and older with a physical disability, and seniors 65 and older. Choices was set up to help a person live in their own home instead of going to a more expensive nursing home. The caregivers are hired by managed care organizations, or MCOs, but there is a shortage of qualified caregivers.

Joseph Davis was near death in May when his son Matt was called from work early to attend to his dad’s needs. A caregiver, contracted by the state’s Choices program, was scheduled to take care of Joseph Davis, but didn’t show up. Matt Davis’s mother, June, was unable to assist her husband.

“My wife called me and said, ‘No one showed up again for your dad,'” said Matt Davis.

Under the Choices program, Matt Davis was the designated backup caregiver for his dad.

“I called in work and told them I wouldn’t be there,” he said. “[It happens] every other day or almost every day.”

Joseph Davis, 85, an Army veteran, was known by everyone as Jodie. The retired pipefitter and grandfather had cancer and Parkinson’s. June Davis said physically, she couldn’t do the lifting required of caregivers and she worried when they missed a shift.

“You know there is nobody here but me sometimes. And I cannot turn him over,” she said.

Three of the most critical posted duties for Joseph Davis’ caregivers were bathing, feeding and turning him over.

“This company said they have CNA’s. We have retired nurses,” said Lorrie McCullough, Joseph Davis’s daughter.

McCullough was at wit’s end over the growing number of missed shifts by the caregivers. Senior Solutions Home Care of Knoxville had been hired to assist Joseph Davis the last month he was alive. McCullough kept a log of when caregivers from Senior Solutions Home Care were at her dad’s side.

“No one came on the 29th. No one came on the 30th. No one came on the first,” she said. “I would call them on the phone and say, ‘You accepted a contract from the government through TennCare. And when you accept a contract, you have to have the people to go out in order to do the job before you accept the contract… and yet, no one shows up.”

Attorney Chris Coleman is with the Tennessee Justice Center in Nashville, a group that fights for the rights of those without a voice. In April 2016, the Justice Center sent a letter to the state requesting the Inspector General investigate the failure of managed care organizations to provide regular and timely home based services.

The Justice Center wrote it has become aware of an increase of delayed or missed shifts for those enrolled in the Choices program.

“The state needs to be holding the managed care organizations accountable for the failure to provide the services that we have contracted with them to provide,” said Coleman. “It’s happening across the state – urban areas to rural areas.”

In an email TennCare stated. “In reviewing Mr. Davis’ care, we were able to confirm there were instances where workers did not arrive as scheduled. It is our intent that providers have sufficient numbers of well-trained staff to deliver services.”

His wife June said when they showed up, there were compassionate workers from Senior Solutions Home Care. However, she said some of those days before he passed away were unpleasant.

“The last week it was total torture because he was supposed to be turned every two hours, changed, and fed when he could eat, which is not a hard job, three times a day,” she said, adding it hadn’t been done.

In its response to WATE 6 On Your Side’s inquiry, Senior Solutions Home Care wrote: “We want to point out that the Choices program requires the family serve as the backup for care.” A spokesperson wrote, “There is a national caregiver shortage. And we invest more energy, time and effort than any other provider in the Knoxville area to expand our caregiver roster.”

Matt Davis and his sister said it’s likely other families have gone through similar experiences with other services under the Choice program. They hope telling their story can eventually make a difference.

In its letter to WATE 6 On Your Side, Senior Solutions Home Care of Knoxville said the Davis family refused service those last few days, but the family claims that was not the case. Senior Solutions Home Care also said their 600 clients, and thousands more in the past, “have always been treated at our best, including Mr. Davis.”

The company said, “Out company is ranked in the top 5 percent of privately owned companies in the nation. We are certainly in the top 10 providers statewide due to our focus on quality when it comes to policy and procedure.”

The shortage of caregivers is being addressed, but it’s not going to be solved overnight.

 

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