Home healthcare remains one of the fastest growing industries in the United States, with the U.S. Department of Labor projecting growth at almost 70% from 2010 to 2020. “It’s an exploding workforce,” reports Laura Stock from UC Berkeley’s Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP), who says little attention is paid to the health and safety of homecare workers, even though they do many of the same tasks that occur in nursing homes and hospitals and are injured, in many instances, at a higher rate than similar workers in institutional settings.
Now, LOHP offers much needed help to these hard-to-reach workers. Their new guidebook, Caring for Yourself While Caring for Others, delivers practical and easy solutions to increase safety for both employees and consumers.
The guidebook originates from a 10 year, multi-stage project with National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the Public Authority for In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) in Alameda County, and the Service Employees International Union—United Long Term Care Workers, or SEIU-ULTCW. NIOSH funded the project as part of an initiative to close gaps in occupational health disparities.
There is no required training for homecare workers in the state of California, unlike some other states. “These are not nursing assistants but people who do both personal care and housekeeping,” says Stock. “It has been challenging to figure out how to reach this population.”
Homecare workers employed by the Public Authority in Alameda County are paid by the state to provide services to low-income seniors and people with disabilities. “Both the healthcare workers and their clients tend to be low-income,” notes Stock, “so the guidebook was targeted to assist people with limited resources.”
Stock and her colleagues chose a participatory-based research approach to identify hazards homecare workers face. “We had a multilingual team from the beginning to represent the target population,” says Stock. A total of twelve Spanish, Cantonese, and English speaking workers and consumers helped craft the guidebook with recommendations on language, images, and overall tone.
Findings from focus groups also shaped the educational tools employed in the guidebook. For example, authors used talking points to help workers and consumers communicate and included real examples of how to implement health and safety solutions in the home.
Once draft materials were developed, team members were trained as field testers. This opened the door for community feedback. “We learned the relationship between the worker and consumer is very important,” says Stock. “Homecare workers are in a caring-mode where their primary concern is the health and wellbeing of their clients. Often, they don’t think about their own health and prioritize that as important.”
Stock and her community partners are now in the promotion and outreach phase of their project. They developed a two hour training workshop to accompany the handbook. Already, they have trained community college instructors and others who are, in-turn, training homecare workers in Alameda County. The Alameda County Public Authority for IHSS plans to distribute the guidebook to all newly hired homecare workers during orientation.
“There has been a tremendous interest among other national organizations that are working with homecare workers,” notes Stock. To meet demand, a national version of the booklet is in the works. Sherry Baron, Stock’s project partner from NIOSH’s Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluation, and Field Studies, is spearheading efforts to share the guidebook with stakeholders across the country.
Find this article and others online at http://coeh.berkeley.edu/bridges