Demand for Home Support Workers Expected to Grow

With an aging population, more people wanting to live at home as long as possible, and a push to ease the burden on health-care institutions, it's no wonder there's a growing demand for home support workers, also called home health aides.

"There are more and more people in the older age brackets as the baby boomers move along," explains Linda Killick. She's a director for home living programs.

"And I think that the next generation of elderly people is going to be more insistent on being able to stay at home and remain as independent as possible," she adds.

As well, many hospitals now practice "early discharge" to quickly free up beds for other patients. And with advances in technology, it's now possible for fairly complex medical procedures to be carried out at home. That means that the elderly and many people with chronic medical conditions can be cared for at home.

While professionals such as nurses, physical and occupational therapists, and even pharmacists deliver more advanced home care, home support workers are the ones who deliver the necessary follow-up care or continuing care that really makes it possible for many individuals to live well at home.

What exactly do home support workers do? Duties vary, but can include administering oral medication (under the orders of a doctor or nurse), changing dressings, assisting with bathing, dressing and other personal care, planning meals, shopping for groceries, cooking, cleaning, performing general household tasks, and being a companion on outings or appointments.

There really is no exact job description, because duties vary with the needs of the individuals who require the home care.

The Good News

This career definitely has its positive aspects, especially for those who like working with people.

"We find that in the home care setting, the home health aides are the ones who the families really become attached to," says Christie Kanitz. She's a community outreach manager in Michigan.

"They're the ones providing the direct care, like bathing -- the things that are very personal to the patients. They develop a true bond with the patients."

Rachel Hammon is director of clinical practice and regulatory affairs for the Texas Association for Home Care. She agrees that there can be many rewards. "You are able to effect positive change in people's lives and allow clients to stay in their homes with more dignity."

Every day is different for a home support worker. For many people, that variety is also a real plus.

And workers can choose to work part time, full time or casually, depending on their own lifestyle. Another upside is that the job doesn't require extensive education. Depending on the state, training can range from on-the-job, to a few weeks, to eight months. It's also a career that makes a great starting point for other health-care careers.

"Home support workers sometimes upgrade their skills and take further education to work as LPNs [licensed practical nurses]," says Cathy Shultz. She's the chairperson for the home support and resident care program at a college.

Some home health aides even go on to become registered nurses. From there, the move-up-the-ladder possibilities really open up.

The Downside

Because the program has extremely modest entry requirements and is often only a few months in length, the pay doesn't come close to what a nurse, for example, earns. Nurses usually study longer and have stricter entrance requirements.

Kanitz says that salaries of home support workers range from $7 to $12.50 an hour.

Home support workers often need a vehicle of their own because they may visit four or five homes in a day, and may have to work weekends and nights, when public transportation is limited. When you factor in the cost of transportation, that doesn't leave a lot of extra income.

Despite the need for home support workers, insiders don't expect the pay to rise any time soon. As Killick points out, "There really has to be a push to have societal recognition of the value of this kind of work."

And that work is not easy.

Hammon says that what makes the job so physically and emotionally challenging is "having to adjust to each patient's individual environment and tailor-fit the care delivered."

There are opportunities to take courses in areas of advanced home care, and there can be different levels of home support workers, with the higher levels earning a bit more.

The Bottom Line

This is not a career in which you're going to make scads of money or move up the workplace ladder. But if that's not what you're all about, then it might be just for you.

"Individuals are usually attracted to the work for reasons other [the pay]," says Shultz. "The work is viewed as interesting and exceptionally rewarding. It allows workers to make a significant impact on the lives of others."

There are plenty of ways to benefit from the need for home support workers. You could make a career out of it. Or you could take the basic training, gain some experience as a home support worker, upgrade your training and go on to a better-paying position in a hospital or nursing home.

One thing is certain: North America will continue to need home support workers.


An online magazine for home support workers

National Association for Home Care and Hospice
Trade association for those in the home care and hospice fields

California Association for Health Services at Home
Check out the training info

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