Florida may soon face an elder care crisis, experts warn

The youngest of the generation known as the baby boomers, whose parents started families when World War II was ending, are aging into retirement. Most older boomers have been enjoying retired life for several years, and some are starting to require extra help at home.

The baby boomer generation was named for the post-war population boom of the mid-20th century. Today, they make up roughly 40% of the U.S. population. Never before has the country had to grapple with that many people potentially in need of part- or full-time, in-home care.

The in-home care industry says its already overwhelmed and may be on the verge of a crisis.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of people ages 65 and older was up to 71 million in 2019, up from 41 million in 2011. The Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, which is a nonprofit that tracks senior services nationally, however, reports there are about 2.6 million home care workers and another million might be needed by 2030, as more baby boomers age into retirement.

Experts across Tampa Bay worry an in-home elder care shortage may be reaching a critical level.

"We're severely understaffed across the board. We're having trouble filling spots in normal levels, let alone projecting into the future," said Dr. Amber Stephens, a geriatric care physician with Optum Care in Pinellas County, who told added, more than ever, seniors want to spend their later years at home. "If you've created a safe environment at their home, they're more likely to do well long term."

That means finding quality, in-home care will become even more challenging during the cold weather months, according to Karla Munoz, with Hillsborough County's Aging Services.

"In addition to the [elderly] citizens that we have here… we also get snowbirds that come down, so that also increases the need for care," Munoz said.

Jon Campbell, vice president of Home Instead Senior Care in Hillsborough County, which is part of the largest in-home care company in the U.S., told FOX 13 the demand grew during the COVID-19 pandemic, with an increasing number of seniors feeling isolated in a long-term care centers.

Finding the right people for the job, however, can be difficult because of the work involved, which can include bathing, dressing and feeding seniors.

"The ability to obviously continue to attract caregivers to this profession is challenging," said Campbell, adding that it's important to find the right people for the jobs. "That loneliness and that depression that comes with it will exacerbate, or accelerate sometimes, things like dementia."

Hillsborough County's Aging Services has more than 1,000 clients who need in-home care. The county also delivers food to nearly 2,000 seniors.