The Women Working To Solve The Home Health Caregiver Crisis
The caregiver crisis in the US extends well beyond those caring for young children. In fact, some of the systemic issues that impact the childcare crisis are the same that plague the eldercare and home health worker industry. While 75% of older adults have said they prefer to receive care at home, there’s no centralized infrastructure set up to do this.
Meanwhile, one in six home health care workers lives below the federal poverty line and more than half rely on some form of public assistance. The 2.3 million home care workers in this country earn a median hourly wage of $11.52 and about $16,200 annually.
The home health crisis impacts not only a vulnerable workforce, but the patients and families who find themselves navigating complicated logistical and emotionally fraught issues as they attempt to find long-term care for their loved ones.
That’s why a number of medical professionals are working to address these issues, among them internist and Weill Cornell’s health services researcher Dr. Madeline Sterling. Sterling works with adults who suffer from chronic conditions. The main focus of her research is to find ways to empower the home health aide workforce while improving patient care.
“Family caregivers are stressed and overwhelmed,” says Sterling. “They are trying to care for their loved ones or trying to navigate the process of getting them the care they need. We also have a workforce that is woefully underpaid and undervalued. Patients are left to fall through the cracks, either staying at home without necessary medical supervision or constantly being hospitalized.”
People over 65 have a 70% chance of needing some type of long-term care services in their future. While Medicare covers home care for seniors, it is generally for limited periods of time, so families are often forced to supplement care with private home health aides. Medicaid actually does provide long-term health care coverage, but there are strict income requirements. To exacerbate the situation, there is currently a home health provider shortage.
Despite a growing need, there doesn’t seem to be much of a focus on the people actually doing the caregiving when it comes to home health aides.
“This is not low skilled work,” Sterling says. “And if we don’t do a better job of recruiting and retaining workers, we will not be able to meet caregiving needs of our rapidly aging population.”
Sterling’s team surveyed over 800 home health aides and found that one of the constant themes that came up with the lack of training in heart failure care, such as monitoring and managing patients’ symptoms. So the team designed and piloted a heart failure training course for home health aides.
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