Man attributes loss of both legs to shortage of personal care assistants

STILLWATER, Minn. (WCCO) — A Minnesota double amputee says if it weren’t for a shortage of personal care assistants in the home health care industry, he’d still have his legs.

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

“I had no one at night Monday through Friday and then no one at all on the weekends,” Prothero said.

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

“Put them to bed, get them up, change their clothes, shower them, feed them, etc.,” Prothero said.

It’s hard work for low pay, and finding PCAs has become harder for Prothero. Labor shortages have affected several industries in the United States, and home health care is an affected area that does not receive much 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 became infected. Doctors were forced to amputate both of her legs below the knee.

“If I had slept in my bed, with the help of a PCA to get me to bed and get up at night, I wouldn’t have had this,” Prothero said.

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

“It’s so heartbreaking to keep saying no, but it’s no from everyone. It’s hard work, so it wears people out sometimes,” said Dena Belisle, president of Minnesota First. Provider Alliance.

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

“I had other people I had for a while, but they all left for better paying jobs. And you can’t blame them. It’s a very real problem,” Prothero said.

Prothero’s family is helping him at night for now, but it’s only a temporary solution.

Home care industry executives say to address the shortage, Minnesota lawmakers must allow PCAs to be paid more through state reimbursements.

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