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He was left in bed, alone, for days. Home healthcare worker shortage affects patients' ability to live

One of Greg's caregivers, Mattie, said he is sometimes left alone all weekend until her Sunday shift. Not able to get up himself, he has no access to food or water.

GRANDVILLE, Mich. — Greg Shanklin is not able to get out of bed himself. He was diagnosed with transverse myelitis in 2008, leaving him paralyzed and requiring home health care workers for the past 13 years. With help from a Hoyer lift, the aide will lift Shanklin in and out of bed every day. 

"They mean a lot to me," said Shanklin. "I appreciate everything that my caregivers do. Most of us have a good bond together."

Shanklin uses a home health care service company, which provides him aides each morning and night. However, if someone calls off for the day, he is left in bed, by himself, without any ability to get himself water or food. 

"I call, and exhausted all avenues for me to try and find somebody," said Shanklin.

He lives alone in a wheelchair-accessible apartment. Each morning, a caregiver visits him, gets him out of bed, fed, bathroom situation addressed and more. In the afternoon, a bus comes to pick him up to take him to Home Depot, where he works as a greeter. In the evenings, another caregiver visits him to do the morning process in reverse. 

"I've been coming here for approximately two years," said Mattie Love, one of his caregivers. "I love Greg."

Love visits him nearly every evening, and usually only one weekend night. However, she is upset and hurt to hear there are times when she or other care workers cannot be there, and there is no one to be with Shanklin. She said sometimes he is left alone all weekend, until she is scheduled to visit Sunday night. She often comes on her days off to visit Shanklin, when she can. She also has eight children of her own to care for during the day. 

Credit: 13 OYS
Love often helps Shanklin with range of motion work, moving his legs and hands around to keep the muscles from becoming too stiff.

"Sometimes, I don't even get an email or call from them. It's Greg calling me," said Love. "He says, 'Hey, nobody's came out. I'm stuck in bed. I haven't ate. I haven't had anything to drink. Nobody's coming out. Is there any way that you could just come help me out?"

Shanklin knows he is not alone. In Michigan, there is a shortage of home care workers. Shanklin feels part of that reason is because they are not paid enough for the work they do, so filling positions is tough. 

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), individual caregivers are paid $9.90 per hour, on average, in Michigan. Agency provider rates are $16.08. Individual caregivers actually received a wage increase effective April of 2020 to that rate.

"It takes a special person with a special heart," said Shanklin. "They don't do it for the money, because they know there is no real money in it. They're doing it for the love of the person, which, that's what I know she does." 

Shanklin said he typically has three aides assigned to him that rotate, but a person who needs as much help as he does should have four or five. He has family members who stop by for emergency situations, but they also have jobs and school and cannot always visit. 

At this point, Shanklin hopes people apply for caregiver positions, or he can find some other means of assistance. 

"People don't think it could be your family, it can be you in a couple months," said Love. "Is this the type of health that you will want for you? How do you just leave somebody and just not care. You just go home, you take care of your kids, you continue your night, you probably go out, have a drink, go to the movies, go eat. And it doesn't even bother you that Greg is just here, with nobody."

13 ON YOUR SIDE did reach out to the home health care provider Love works for, but they have not responded with a statement. 

Love said one of Shanklin's top concerns is that he will lose his independence, his job and have to live in an assisted living or nursing home. He is still able to live and work on his own for much of the day. 

"I had to call off for work," said Shanklin of the days a caregiver cannot visit in the morning, "because I wasn't able to get out to bed until later that day. It's so frustrating and stressful. Sometimes, you wonder why me?"

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