In-home health care companies in the Ozarks short on staffing

Updated: May. 26, 2021 at 7:10 PM CDT
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WEST PLAINS, Mo. (KY3) - The shortage of employees in the Ozarks is impacting in-home health care companies.

After a nasty leg injury in June, doctors had to amputate Mark Stewart’s leg. He had to wait until October to get his new leg.

“You’d think you’d just put the leg on and take off walking,” said Stewart. “But you don’t, you really are like a child, you have to learn how to walk again.”

Mark spent several months in a nursing home. T hanks to the help of an in-home caregiver, he was able to return home. Clara Koelling, 88, helps Stewart with everything from running errands to housework. “I mean, there’s no way Mark could strip his bed and stand up and strip it,” said Koelling.

Koelling has seven clients, ranging from 64-to-86-years-old, all with different caregiving needs. She said she enjoys helping people, and it gives her life more meaning. “I go to bed every night feeling good, knowing that I helped people that day,” she said.

According to her manager, Debra Jorgensen at Independent In-Home Care in West Plains, people like Koelling are few and far between these days.

“We have calls daily, asking us to take on people and we have to turn them down because we do not have available staffing,” said Jorgensen. “It’s always been hard to find staff, but COVID-19 made things worse than ever.”

Jorgensen says some quit because they didn’t want to put themselves at risk by going into people’s homes when the pandemic began. Others quit when they received their first stimulus checks. When the federal government began paying $600 a week in additional unemployment benefits, it became extremely difficult to find people willing to work for $10.30 an hour.

“We would pay more if we could, but we are a small company and that’s all we can afford,” said Jorgensen. In Missouri, federal unemployment payments will end on June 12. She’s hoping that will help ease the labor shortage. “We’re just keeping our fingers crossed,” she said.

Meanwhile, many people like Mark Stewart who could use some help at home will have to wait. He’s very thankful he’s had Clara around to help.

“I’m starting to walk without a walker again without a walker, “he said, “but it would have been almost impossible to live here without having help in the very beginning.”

Koelling says the job helps her just as much as it helps her clients.

“Makes you get up and dress yourself and not lay in your pajamas all day you know,” she laughed.

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