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The Daily Tar Heel

'Many of these are the forgotten folks': State budget gives bonuses to NC direct care workers

Nicholas Pacini
DTH Photo Illustration. NC Medicaid Direct Care workers will be receiving bonuses for their work during the pandemic.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services announced in a press release Wednesday that eligible North Carolina Medicaid direct care workers will soon receive a wage increase

Eligible direct care workers as well as support staff will also receive a one-time bonus.

According to the press release, eligible direct care workers include those working in certain waiver programs, intermediate care facilities for people with intellectual disabilities and community-based settings like nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

These changes were made possible by the newly adopted North Carolina state budget, which includes both the necessary funds for the bonus and a provision regarding wage increases for direct care workers.

The state allocated $133 million for these bonuses, with a maximum bonus amount of $2,000 per worker.

“We are pleased this budget allocation was approved, acknowledging the critical role of these often-overlooked health care heroes,” Dave Richard, deputy secretary for NC Medicaid, said in the press release. 

These workers commit to both physical and emotional labors such as bringing food, helping people use the restroom and providing for those with mental and physical disabilities while receiving an average hourly wage of only $11 to $12, Richard said in an interview with The Daily Tar Heel.

Additionally, Richard said that the COVID-19 pandemic has made direct care workers’ jobs even more difficult as they continue to provide crucial services in potentially dangerous environments.

“In the middle of COVID, they're going into places where you might not know whether (a patient) or a family member that you wanted to see has COVID,” Richard said.

Adam Sholar, president and CEO of the North Carolina Health Care Facilities Association, also said that direct care workers have helped North Carolina’s most vulnerable throughout the pandemic.

“You can’t say enough good things about the dedication of nursing home employees who provided care and compassion for nursing home residents under very difficult circumstances,” he said. “In addition to providing 24/7 care, these workers also provided emotional care and support for months while visitation was limited in long term care facilities.”

NCDHHS Press Assistant Catie Armstrong said that the new bonuses and wage increases serve to express the state’s recognition of its direct care workers.

“Responding to this public health emergency has been particularly hard on health care workers locally, statewide, nationally and across the globe,” Armstrong said. “These bonuses double down on North Carolina’s appreciation of our direct care workers who provide care to North Carolina’s most vulnerable citizens.”

Additionally, Karen McLeod, president and CEO of the human services advocacy group Benchmarks, said that it is difficult to adequately provide payment for direct care workers without additional government funding.

“Our direct support workers are usually paid by Medicaid which means we are dealing with a government-funded salary base — we don’t have the ability to dramatically adjust salaries,” McLeod said. “Instead, we're just dependent on whatever the government rate comes out to be.”

McLeod said that the North Carolina Legislature had met its responsibility, both by establishing a more competitive wage and by acknowledging the work done by direct care workers.

“They really stepped up in a way like we've never seen before," she said.

Richard also commended the work done by the North Carolina Legislature. He said there was was uniformity across Democrats and Republicans to recognize and reward the service of direct care workers.

“Everybody came to consensus that this was the right thing to do — and to me that's a positive thing," Richard said.

@HarrisonGGummel

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com 

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