This blog post originally appeared in Direct Care Alliance, Inc..
I’m the president and CEO of Catalina In-Home Services in Tucson, Arizona. We offer personal care and support services. Our clients are all private pay. We have about 65 caregivers, who we call professional direct care workers. They all have formal training, and the majority are certified nursing assistants.
When I started the company in 1981, I felt very strongly that we were going to have to offer benefits if we were going to be able to be competitive in terms of being able to recruit and retain the best. So we have always offered paid time off. We call it paid time off rather than paid sick days because you can also use it for vacation or personal time. And if you’d rather cash it out than use it, you can do that too.
All our direct care workers can accrue paid time off, whether they’re full-time or part-time. For every hour they work, they get .02 hours of paid time off. That comes to two weeks a year if you work fulltime.
At first we offered health care, but the cost just become too prohibitive. We had to drop that, but we decided we would keep offering paid time off. Just this year, we changed that program too because of high administrative costs. Now our employees get a choice: either they get paid time off, which is accrued at the same rate, or they get a pay raise of 22 cents an hour.
About a quarter of the staff opted for the pay raise. The rest prefer the paid time off. Our direct care workers earn between $10.50 and $11.75 an hour. That’s better than the average wage for home care workers, but still you can see why some would rather have the extra money.
Our retention is much better than average. Eighty percent of our caregivers now have been with us two years or longer. One has been with us for 25 years. We think that’s because we focus on valuing and respecting our workforce, and our paid time off benefit is part of that.
I think our direct care workers appreciate knowing that, if they are sick, they can stay home and know they are going to be paid. Or they can accumulate the time and take a paid vacation, which is practically unheard of in this industry. I think it shows that we really do care about them. It’s not just lip service: we really are there to support them and to help them be successful.
We know that they have personal concerns that require them to take time off, and to be able to take time off without losing pay is a relief of stress. It allows them to set their priorities and take care of their personal business. If they go to work in somebody’s home when they need to take care of some personal business but they can’t afford to take the time off, they’re not present in the job. So it’s better for them to be able to take the time off, and it’s better for the clients too.
We also experience very few last-minute call-outs, because knowing that they can take paid time off allows people to plan their lives and the things they need to get to. That means we have plenty of advance notice, so we can schedule another caregiver who has been to the home before, rather than doing last-minute coverage where you can lose a lot of continuity for the client. That makes a huge difference in terms of your service delivery and your reputation in the community. And less last-minute call-ins means less time your schedulers have to spend scrambling to call people to cover shifts at the last minute.
Offering paid time off cost us about 17 or 18 thousand dollars last year. I think that’s a pretty small investment, given the return. You can make your company profitable, have a great reputation in your community, and do the right thing for your direct care workers. It really is affordable, and it’s the right thing to do.