New report says Maine needs 2,300 additional care workers to meet demand

The Maine Center for Economic Policy found that 23,500 hours of approved home care for older adults are not fulfilled each week.
A man uses a walker to get up the walkway to his home's front door.
Photo by Willowpix/iStock.

A new report estimates that Maine needs an additional 2,300 full-time care workers to “bridge the gap between the care people are entitled to and approved for, and what is available.”

The report, released Tuesday by the left-leaning Maine Center for Economic Policy, also suggested that the Medicaid reimbursement rate for direct care should be increased to at least 140 percent of the state’s minimum wage, or about $19.81 per hour, for the jobs to be competitive.

As The Maine Monitor recently reported, a number of home care programs that serve older adults are experiencing staffing shortages, and a growing percentage of people who have been approved for home care hours under MaineCare or state-funded programs are not able to find caregivers to work all their allotted hours.

For example, the number of enrollees in Section 96, which funds private duty nursing and personal care services, stayed about the same while the share of people who are “partially staffed” went from 47 to 62 percent between November 2022 and December 2023.

The Maine Center for Economic Policy report used new data to calculate the number of unstaffed hours, and found 23,500 hours of approved home care for older adults are not fulfilled each week.

The counties with the greatest need relative to population size are Somerset, Washington, Kennebec, Aroostook and Hancock.

To meet the demand, the organization estimates that Maine needs another 400 personal support specialists and 187 nurses.

The Maine Center for Economic Policy also used survey and facility data to estimate that the state needs another 1,600 workers to serve adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and 157 more workers in nursing homes.

The report highlighted recent positive steps to bolster the workforce, including increasing the MaineCare reimbursement rate in 2021 for direct care workers to 125 percent of minimum wage; allocating $120 million for recruitment and retention bonuses; creating the Respite for ME program to provide family caregivers with up to $2,000 in reimbursements for expenses like counseling and training; and establishing the direct care and support professionals advisory council through the Maine Long Term Care Ombudsman Program.

But as Maine’s population continues to get older, demand will only grow. The report recommended focusing on better wages, benefits, training, scheduling and respect for the work.

It cited a survey of workers, conducted by Maine’s Essential Care and Support Workforce Partnership, that found 64 percent of those surveyed said the most important way to attract more people to the profession was “fair pay.” The next-highest section, with 9 percent, was “professional development.”

The report also advocated for better data collection, saying attempts to measure the problem offers “only a partial view of the full scope of the problem.”

The analysis does not capture people who do not qualify for MaineCare or state-funded programs, those who drop out of the labor force to care for loved ones, and those who choose not to pursue care because of administrative hurdles or lack of information.

A possible solution, according to the report, would be for the state to invest in an integrated reporting system that policymakers, consumers and providers could access to make decisions. It could involve authorizing the Maine Health Data Organization to create a uniform reporting system based on claims data from all payers, and having the Offices of Aging and Disability Services and MaineCare Services collect and publish data on staffing and wages by sector and geography.


Rose Lundy

Rose Lundy covers public health for The Maine Monitor. She is a 2020 Report for America corps member, and a 2022 ProPublica Local Reporting Network fellow. Rose previously covered politics and local government at The Daily News in southwest Washington. She grew up in Minnesota and graduated from the University of Wisconsin.
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