Washington State has one of the highest minimum wages in the nation, which is set to increase to $16.28 per hour for employees sixteen years of age and older in 2024. While this may seem like a positive development for low-wage workers, it has also created unintended consequences for the health care sector, which is facing a severe shortage of workers and a rising demand for services amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a recent report by the Washington Health Care Association (WHCA), many health care providers have been forced to lay off staff, reduce hours, or close facilities due to the increased labor costs and the inability to recruit and retain qualified workers.
Impact on Health Care Workers
The WHCA report surveyed 120 health care facilities across the state, including nursing homes, assisted living communities, home health agencies, and hospice providers. The report found that 76% of the facilities had reduced staff, 58% had reduced hours, and 12% had closed or planned to close in 2024 due to the minimum wage hike.
The report also estimated that the minimum wage hike would result in the loss of 12,000 health care jobs in 2024, affecting mostly direct care workers such as certified nursing assistants, home health aides, and personal care aides. These workers are essential for providing quality care and support to the elderly, disabled, and chronically ill populations, who are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19 and its complications.
The report also highlighted the challenges of attracting and retaining health care workers in the state, especially in rural areas where the cost of living is lower and the minimum wage is higher than the market rate. The report found that 82% of the facilities had difficulty filling vacancies, 74% had increased turnover, and 68% had increased use of temporary or agency staff in 2024. The report attributed these problems to the lack of competitive wages, benefits, and career opportunities for health care workers, as well as the increased stress, burnout, and risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Impact on Health Care Quality and Access
The minimum wage hike has also affected the quality and access of health care services in the state, according to the WHCA report. The report found that 72% of the facilities had reduced the quality of care, 66% had reduced the quantity of care, and 54% had reduced the availability of care in 2024 due to the minimum wage hike.
The report also noted that the minimum wage hike had increased the demand for health care services, as more low-wage workers became eligible for Medicaid and sought preventive and primary care. However, the supply of health care services had decreased, as fewer providers could afford to accept Medicaid or offer services at a loss.
The report warned that the minimum wage hike could have serious implications for the health and well-being of the state’s residents, especially the elderly, disabled, and chronically ill populations, who rely on health care workers for their daily needs.
The report stated that the minimum wage hike could lead to increased hospitalizations, emergency room visits, infections, falls, injuries, and deaths among these populations, as well as increased costs and liabilities for the health care system and the state.
Washington State’s minimum wage hike in 2024 has had a negative impact on the health care sector, which is already struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic. The minimum wage hike has led to massive layoffs, reduced hours, and closures of health care facilities, as well as reduced quality, quantity, and availability of health care services.
The minimum wage hike has also created a shortage of health care workers, who are essential for providing care and support to the state’s most vulnerable populations. The minimum wage hike has thus harmed both the health care workers and the health care consumers in the state, and may have long-term consequences for the health and economy of the state.