Home-care co-ops could ease the senior living crisis in Nebraska

Only 15 co-ops operate in the nation, but UNL is taking steps to bring the idea here

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – With more senior living facilities closing in Nebraska, many people are looking for immediate solutions.

One idea that is fairly new may be able to help, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is trying to introduce it in Nebraska.

Home-care worker cooperatives are successful in both Washington state and New York City, but it is still a fairly unexplored idea, as only 15 exist nationwide.

Seniors would continue living in their own home, and home-care workers would come to them.  The workers would then be their own boss, so they would control their wages, benefits, and work-life balance.

“I think the co-op business model offers an alternative to other workplaces that younger folks who are really concerned with social justice and being paid a fair wage and democracy, I think they would be attracted to the model,” said Deborah Craig, a co-op developer in Washington. “The democratic workplace, it really draws people that want to be self-reliant, who want to contribute to something bigger than themselves.”

This idea would mainly be for the rural parts of Nebraska.

“Just like school districts have consolidated, I think that co-ops could have consolidation areas as co-op areas,” said Heidi Thomas, who’s interested in starting a homecare co-op in Nebraska.

The co-op model has been successful because there are no executives in charge of the workers.

“So it does reduce what they need to charge in order to realize the same profits and pay themselves a very competitive wage,” said Cynthia Houlden, UNL’s co-op coordinator. “Across the nation, co-ops tend to pay $2 to $3 more per hour, provide better benefits and better work-life balance.”

One resident in a Nebraska nursing home had to move out the day after her 106th birthday because it closed.

“Once your out of your network of people who love you and you love back, I think that’s a dangerous place to go with people who are aged and disabled at that level,” Thomas said.

Thomas used to work at her local nursing home where her husband lived.  She became a certified nursing assistant in order to see him during the pandemic, but then his facility closed, and she had to bring him home to avoid moving him to a facility out of town.

“Nor should people think that they have to, in order to receive care, go to some other community,” Thomas said. “You should be able to receive care where you’ve always been.”

Homecare cooperatives are currently not an option in Nebraska, but the Nebraska Cooperative Development Center at UNL is hosting a pilot program in partnership with a group in Washington.

The program is teaching the first generation of those who would run home-care co-ops in Nebraska.

Craig said there are only 15 home-care co-ops nationwide. She said the largest, in the Bronx borough of New York, has 2,500 employees.

“The potential is there to do something really big or do something small,” Craig said.

Moving forward, supporters hope this idea grows and will help seniors stay in their homes.

They also hope to find a balance between paying workers a worthy rate and keeping it affordable for seniors.

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