Recently proposed legislation in California may raise minimum wages to $25 per hour among health care workers in the state.
Sen. Maria Elena Durazo (D-Calif.) recently introduced a bill that would establish five separate minimum wage schedules for health care employees. If enacted, the bill would instill incremental payroll hikes among workers during the next decade, with deadlines to meet the $25 per hour threshold varying by health care setting, as well as an organization’s staff and patient population sizes, among other factors.
Currently, the minimum wage in California is $15 per hour across all industries for organizations with 26 or more employees.
Requiring higher minimum health care worker wages is an effort to attract and grow a more experienced workforce that will improve quality and availability of health care, according to legislators.
“Higher wages are an important means of retaining an experienced workforce and attracting new workers. A stable workforce benefits patients and improves quality of care,” the bill’s language stipulated. “Employers across multiple industries are raising wages. The health care sector in California must offer higher wages to remain competitive.”
Employees covered by the proposed legislature include workers at hospitals, health systems, skilled nursing facilities and other organizations, including dialysis clinics and inpatient centers. Though the law doesn’t apply specifically to hospice, providers may have to raise wages to remain competitive with providers in those other settings.
The bill includes different rules to step up wages according to health care organization type, staffing volumes and patient population sizes. Some organizations would have until 2033 to meet the $25/hour minimum wage requirement, while others would need to be compliant within a couple years’ time.
The proposed legislation in California ibrings attention to the value of health care workers and the need to attract more professionals to the field amid rising demand – especially nurses in senior services, according to Craig Dresang, CEO of California-based YoloCares.
The hospice and palliative care field is among those in critical need to shore up its supply of registered and licensed vocational nurses, certified nursing assistants and home health aide, he said. Elevating wages for these and other clinical positions would help make these “more desirable career paths” for future applicants, Dresang stated.
“From a larger systemic perspective, this legislation is a great start in addressing chronic staffing shortages in nursing,” Dresang told Hospice News in an email. “As California’s aging population grows in the near future, the need for qualified workers will continue to be more dire. Hopefully, this proposed legislation will increase the number of professionals entering the field of end-of-life care, thus relieving some pressures from the nursing shortage.”
Violation of minimum wage requirements under current California labor laws is considered a misdemeanor. The proposed bill would make these violations a crime by establishing new minimum wages that would impose compliance among state-mandated local programs.
The legislation would require health care facility employers with 10,000 full-time workers or more to pay a minimum wage of $23 per hour starting in June 2024, with year-over-year increases until reaching the $25 per hour mark in 2026.
After that, the minimum wage would be indexed around inflation or 3.5%. Employers that fall into this category include those that are part of integrated health care systems, facilities with dialysis clinics or organizations operating in a county with a population more than 5 million residents.
Organizations in the state that would have the longest time frame to raise wages among employees include skilled nursing facilities and certain hospitals. Skilled nursing employers would have until June 2028 to comply with the new wage requirement among. Hospitals that are not part of a health system, those that serve rural regions or others operating in counties with a population of less than 250,000 would have until June 2033 to comply.
Competition for hospice workers has been fierce amid staffing shortages, retirements and rising cases of burnout and turnover during the pandemic. Hospices are in the same shallow resource pools as health care systems, hospitals and other providers when it comes to the hunt for nurses, physicians, social workers and other interdisciplinary staff.
These factors have created a challenging recruitment and retention environment for states across the nation.
Raising pay for health workers is just one aspect of improving labor strains, but can come with difficult financial impacts for some organizations, including hospices.
The ability to offer competitive wages comes with careful navigation around budgeting as well as assessing a long-term strategy toward workforce growth and clinical capacity, according to Dresang. YoloCares raised clinical pay as part of its “expansion strategy” to provide improved access to quality care providers, he indicated.
“Retaining high quality staff isn’t just great for patient care and quality, it also enables us to continue growing and to protect our market share,” Dresang told Hospice News. “Staff turnover hinders our ability to meet the needs of our community so it is in our best interests to invest in the excellent clinicians we currently have.”