Man blames loss of both legs on personal care assistant shortage

Published: Nov. 16, 2022 at 3:39 AM CST
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STILLWATER, Minn. (WCCO) - A double amputee from Minnesota says that if it weren’t for a shortage of personal care assistants in the in-home healthcare industry, he’d still have his legs.

Dennis Prothero, a veteran, is often alone in his apartment in Stillwater, except for his dog, Summer. But she can’t help him get in and out of bed.

“I didn’t have anybody at night Monday through Friday and then, nobody at all on the weekend,” Prothero said.

Since a car accident left him a quadriplegic nearly 20 years ago, Prothero has needed personal care assistants, who are lifelines to the clients they serve.

“Putting them in bed, getting them up, changing their clothes, giving them a shower, feeding them, et cetera,” Prothero said.

It’s hard work for low pay, and finding PCAs has become more difficult for Prothero. Labor shortages have affected multiple industries in the United States, and in-home healthcare is an impacted area that doesn’t get a lot of attention.

This summer, without the help of a PCA, Prothero found himself sleeping in his wheelchair night after night. Sores developed on his feet and got infected. Doctors were forced to amputate both his legs below the knee.

“If I’d been sleeping in bed, with the help of a PCA to get in and out of bed in the evenings, I wouldn’t have had this,” Prothero said.

Some PCA providers have stopped taking on new clients because they can’t find enough PCAs to help.

“It’s so heartbreaking to keep saying no, but it’s no from everybody. It’s a hard job, so it sometimes burns people out,” said Dena Belisle, the president of the Minnesota First Provider Alliance.

Minnesota had more than 7,000 vacancies in the personal care industry at the end of 2021. The median wage was $14 an hour.

“I’ve had other people that I had for quite a while, but they all left for jobs that paid more. And you can’t blame them for that. This is a very real problem,” Prothero said.

Prothero’s family is helping him at night for the time being, but that is just a temporary solution.

Leaders in the in-home care industry say to help with the shortage, Minnesota lawmakers need to allow PCAs to be paid more by reimbursements from the state.