Mind The Gap: Solving The Home Health Aide Shortage

Home health aides fill an important role in our society, providing needed care to an aging population. They also allow disabled individuals to live independently, hold jobs, and extend their lifespans well beyond what they might be in a nursing home or other institutional setting. That being said, there are not nearly enough home health aides to meet the current need and the situation is reaching a breaking point.

How can recruiters and healthcare companies boost the number of available home health aides while slowing the current rate of worker attrition? This mission requires changing the current language of recruiting as well as developing – and publicizing – new home health aide programs that incentivize the work.

Bridging The Gender Gap

As in traditional nursing, women make up the vast majority of home health aides because care work has been so heavily feminized. Right now, though, women are making greater headway in education and employment than men, meaning they’re less likely to take low paid healthcare jobs. Home health aide work is also very physical and workers incur injuries at an unusually high rate; women are especially prone to injury.

Bridging the gender gap and encouraging more men to become home health aides is a key part of resolving the current shortage. This would be beneficial for all parties, boosting the employment circumstances of many unemployed men in this country as well as helping patients stay at home longer – physically able men can perform transfers and other care tasks like shower transfers more easily than most women, aid that individuals need but often can only receive in a hospital or nursing home with special equipment.

If recruiters can push the physical, even masculine aspects of home healthcare work, they may have more luck bringing men on board. How you describe a job has more to do with who applies than what the job actually is.

The Many Sides Of Care Work

Another reason that home healthcare work is so hard to sell to a broad workforce is that there’s a very narrow understanding of what it involves. First, many people think you need to be a trained nurse to do this work, which isn’t true. Many people who work in home healthcare are actually trained by the programs that employ them.

Another misconception about home healthcare is that it involves a very limited set of tasks – medication administration, bathing, toileting, and things of that nature. Though this is often true, it isn’t always the case. Depending on the level of training of the staff member and the needs of the client, tasks may include transportation services, meal preparation, and supervision for a developmentally impaired individual who needs help living independently, for example.

Recruiters should leverage the diversity of tasks involved in home health aide work in order to attract a wider group of individuals. More people are qualified to do this work than realize it and there are simple ways to remedy that issue.

Formalizing The System

Much of the recruiting for home health aides is done in an ad hoc fashion – companies put up job postings or even hand out fliers – but there are better ways to advertise the availability of such work that can also legitimize and professionalize it.

In some states, you can be paid to care for a family member who needs assistance with activities of daily living. Since many people are already caring for family members with heart conditions, diabetes, or dementia, this can help bolster caregiver numbers while incentivizing the work. Discovering the rewards and already trained, some caregivers will remain in the field even after their loved ones are transferred to a facility or pass away.

Another way to increase new hires to the home healthcare field is to offer stronger supports, such as an apprenticeship program. Hawaii recently instituted a CNA Apprenticeship program through which some colleges can earn contracts to train CNAs through employer partnerships. This type of direct support encourages people not only to participate in this kind of work, but also to stay in the field.

Ultimately, the home health aide shortage is part of a longer pattern of competition for top talent – and the hunt for better pay. Relative to its importance, home health aides are not very well paid and that makes it easy for other companies to poach talent, even if the pay and benefits are only marginally better. By diversifying programs, offering better supports, and creating empowering and engaging company cultures, companies have a better chance of retaining the best workers and attracting new ones.

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Melissa Thompson

Melissa is a mother of 2, lives in Utah, and writes for a multitude of sites. She is currently the EIC of HarcourtHealth.com and writes about health, wellness, and business topics.