Inaugural Home Care Cooperative Conference highlights emerging power of cooperative caregivers

home care conf1 500 b20c2home care conf1 500 b20c2More than 60 members and developers from across the U.S. representing eight of the country’s nine established home care cooperatives met in Dulles, Virginia, last week for the inaugural Home Care Cooperative Conference, organized by the Cooperative Development Foundation and hosted at the headquarters of the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation.

With a strong focus on education, the conference outlined how the emerging home care cooperative sector can become employers of choice by bolstering their recruitment, retention and training strategies. Conference presenters also addressed marketing to caregivers and clients, human resources and governance and finance. And, in an industry that can often be isolating, the conference was a unique opportunity for caregivers to network and collaborate with likeminded cooperators—sharing the resources, ideas and insights the sector needs to grow.

Leslie Mead, Executive Director of CDF, said the Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation has invested significant resources in home care worker cooperatives in recent years. “The goal of that work is the creation of sustainable home care cooperatives that optimize wages and opportunities for member-owners. This conference was a key step in achieving that goal," Mead said. 

While key to keeping seniors and the disabled out of nursing homes and hospitals, home care providers working at traditional agencies are some of the lowest paid and most exploited workers in the U.S., said David Hammer, Executive Director of the ICA Group, an organization that works to curb job loss and create stable communities by developing worker cooperatives.

home care conf3 22360home care conf3 22360[More than 60 members and developers from across the U.S. representing eight of the country’s nine established home care cooperatives met in Dulles, Virginia, last week for the inaugural Home Care Cooperative Conference.]"On a whole, the home health care industry views caregivers as commodities," Hammer told conference attendees. It's not surprising, then, that the industry experiences a more than 60 percent average annual turnover, according to PHI, a national strategy center working to ensure quality home care through quality home care jobs.

During a presentation that spanned both opportunities and challenges facing home care worker cooperatives, Hammer said home care cooperatives are poised to upend the industry by optimizing wages, training and career advancement opportunities for worker-owners.

“Co-ops have an obligation to provide the best jobs,” he told attendees. “We need to be smarter than the competition.”
Bronx, NY-based Cooperative Home Care Associates, the nation’s largest worker cooperative, is doing just that. It employs 2,300 caregivers—90 percent of whom are women of color—who enjoy competitive wages, regular hours and family health insurance. The organization has chipped down that 60 percent average turnover rate to just 15 percent. The other seven home care cooperatives represented at last week’s conference—along with four emerging co-ops—have similar stories of worker empowerment and job satisfaction.

Victoria Sprong, Caregiver Coordinator at Circle of Life Caregiver Cooperative, began working as a caregiver as a young single mother and found empowerment, stability and leadership opportunities by joining a cooperative. In her presentation, she urged home care co-ops to create and market “a culture of ownership”—something she found unique and appealing about cooperatives.

home care conf2 500 0fe0ehome care conf2 500 0fe0e[Anne Reynolds, Executive Director of the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives, outlines governance steps co-ops can take to "build a culture of education and openness" within their boards.] “Make it clear that your members belong to something bigger than clocking in and clocking out,” Sprong said. “A connection to the larger cooperative movement can be very powerful.” And a sense of ownership in the business means worker-owners are more likely to invest in their jobs.

During her presentation, Deborah Craig, a Cooperative Development Specialist at Northwest Cooperative Development Center, advised attendees to target younger generations when recruiting caregivers.

“Not only is our population aging in general, but our current caregivers will be aging out of these jobs in the next ten years. We really need to be bringing younger people into this industry,” she said.

Last week’s conference was the culmination of three years of work by the Development Steering Committee, hosted by the Cooperative Development Foundation and meant to scale home care cooperative development. By connecting caregivers and developers with technical assistance providers and lenders who understand the needs of home care cooperatives, the conference was “a tribute to the committee’s work,” Mead said.

Mead also recognized conference sponsors, including the CHS Foundation and USDA Rural Development, which provided a grant to cover travel, lodging and lost wages expenses for home care providers to participate in the conference. Sponsoring events during the conference were Capital Impact Partners, National Cooperative Bank and CoBank.

In the coming weeks, look for interviews with home care cooperative caregivers and in-depth reports on conference presentations on NCBA CLUSA’s Facebook page and upcoming editions of CBJ Online.


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