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Demand exceeds staffing at Salisbury’s nonprofit Chore Service

Help Wanted: Business is back, workers are not

SALISBURY — For more than three decades, Chore Service has employed local people who provide non-medical care to seniors and disabled residents in the Northwest Corner so that they may remain safely and independently at home. 

Then came the coronavirus, and with it, unprecedented hiring challenges for the nonprofit agency. As requests for assistance pile up, workers to do the chores for homebound individuals are scarce, according to Executive Director Jane MacLaren.

“We’re just not able to hire,” said MacLaren, who, along with Program Director Patti Palermo, has been furiously searching for new employees. They’ve posted help-wanted notices on Facebook, in local publications, on community bulletin boards. They’ve contacted town social workers and community colleges in the hopes of generating applicants.

“We’ve had little to no response,” said MacLaren. What scant response they do received from applicants is often followed by no-shows for interviews. “We don’t get a lot of follow-through from the applicants.”

The Chore Service directors pointed to several issues contributing to their hiring woes: workers who still fear contracting the virus, parents sidelined with children who are out of school, a lack of available childcare and competition with the federal and state governments.

“We assume there is also an issue with people receiving [unemployment] benefits that are allowing them to stay at home,” said Palermo. “While this is great and often necessary, it is hard for agencies like ours to find folks who can help us serve our clients.”

Chore Service, which serves residents in North Canaan, Cornwall, Falls Village, Kent, Lakeville, Norfolk, Salisbury and Sharon, is not alone in its search for workers. 

As pandemic life recedes, workers nationwide are leaving their jobs in search of more flexibility and more money, and are rethinking how they spend their time. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in June the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) increased by 233,000 to 4 million, following a decline of 431,000 in May. 

Lost one-third
of the staff

Prior to the pandemic, the agency employed 31 paid staff. That number has dwindled by one third, to 21. 

“The need is the greatest it’s ever been,” said the Chore Service executive director. “We’ve always prided ourselves on not having a wait list.”

In the past, requests were filled immediately, “particularly for people getting released from rehab who need our services right away.” 

Now, with the exception of urgent needs such as food and other necessities — which are often handled by MacLaren and Palermo — the wait may be several days. The alternative, said MacLaren, is that clients may have to stay an extra day in a health care setting.

“It’s hard when you have to prioritize the clients. We’ve never had to do that before,” said Palermo. “We are struggling to keep up with the need.” 

The program director noted that housekeeping services and requests for companionship services represent the bulk of the wait list. Added demand for services is also the result of the departure of clients’ family members, who moved to the area during the height of the pandemic and are now returning home.

‘A very competitive wage’

MacLaren noted that pre-pandemic, the agency had been considering raising the hourly wage of $14 for indoor chores and $15 for outdoor tasks to $15 and $16, respectively. 

Just a year and a half prior to that, she noted, the hourly pay was $12.50. 

But the current hourly pay hike came ahead of schedule due to hiring challenges. 

“It’s a very competitive wage for this area,” noted the executive director, who also touted the agency’s flexibility when it comes to workers’ schedules, and a job which is personally rewarding. 

Services offered by Chore Service — which is funded in part by the Western Connecticut Area Agency on Aging — may be temporary or ongoing, and include companionship, house cleaning, laundry, light meal prep, minor handyman repairs, transportation and yard work. 

Clients make a contribution based on income and ability to pay, and community donations also help support the program.

The agency directors are optimistic that summer’s end will bring relief. 

“Once school starts in September, I think we will get back to normal. Parents will be able to get out and do things again,” said MacLaren, and that should expand the employment pool. 

“What is unique about Chore Service,” she noted, “is that we serve people in the community and also hire people from the community.” 

For more information on employment opportunities at Chore Service, Inc., go to www.choreservice.org or call 860-435-9177. Applications are available online.

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