Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Need for qualified eldercare outpacing trained, available caregivers

The story, told in the Foster Daily Democrat newspaper (Dover, NH) is one familiar to most family caregivers.

“…Between the constant worry that her mother, Aletha Mitchell, may fall again, and the hours spent bringing her to the doctor, running errands and paying bills, the physical and mental exhaustion of this second full-time job has set in for the 56-year-old Dover reading tutor.”

Family members are assuming more and more of their parent’s caregiving responsibilities. They want to keep their loved one at home, if at all possible. And they need help to make that happen.

“By 2030, one in five Americans will be 65 or older, and by 2050, there will be 88.5 million citizens in that age group, more than doubling the current 65-and-over population. Meanwhile, the number of working-age people between ages 18 and 64 is projected to decline from 63 percent now to 57 percent in 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.”

The challenge is that, as our population ages, we won’t have enough younger, willing people to care for the aged in their homes. We certainly, even today, have a gap in the number of trained, qualified in-home caregivers.

As one of the experts in the article points out, the care that previously required a hospital or nursing home stay is today being provided at home. Individuals are being discharged to home with more complex medical problems, caregiving needs and fragile health states.

As caregivers frequently say, caregiving for these individuals isn’t for sissies. It requires knowledge, skills and training.

“Along with pay, there needs to be more training programs and a broader volunteer base for those caring for loved ones in order to offset the occupation's dwindling ‘population base.’”

Now is the time to begin exploring this problem in depth, and finding solutions for our own loved ones’ care and for the future needs of the aged nationwide.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Certified Personal Care Aides offer advantages to consumer and providers

It’s not a job requirement. But – wow – are employers jumping on board.

For caregivers working in community based care settings (home care, assisted living or residential care, typically), few pre-employment requirements exist. The federal government has just recently agreed on a job title – Personal Care Aide – for caregivers in these settings. Training? Certification? Not so much.

But for employers hiring caregivers in these settings, pre-employment certification means two things: an individual who has taken the time and initiative to build their skills, and a crucial time-and-money savings in the need for post-employment training.

For the consumer, it’s a win-win, too. Knowing that the person providing care to your loved one is a Certified Personal Care Aide (PCA) can provide greater peace of mind and confidence. Finding an agency that saves money on new hires can possibly result in savings for the consumer, too, or at the very least a stronger, more viable business model for the agency.

We’ve been introducing this idea to employers in our home state of Oregon. So far, employers are very excited about the prospect of hiring pre-certified PCAs. Many of them know the quality of our online training programs through courses they currently use in training their staff. They can see the advantages to them and to their clients very clearly.

Watch closely for further developments on this program as we prepare to launch it first here in Oregon, and later throughout the entire country.

We just may be able to change the face of caregiving in the U.S. today.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wherever you go, whatever you do, say you’re a Professional

When I was in school getting a degree in social work people would ask me, “So what exactly does a social worker do?”

My mom thought social workers only worked in public assistance offices. My dad thought maybe social workers just took kids out of bad homes. No one really knew that social workers then – and now – work in hospitals, work as counselors, create and manage programs for special populations, and perform a whole range of tasks, in a wide variety of settings.

Titles mean something, especially job titles. That’s why nurses often say they’re “RNs” instead of just nurses – it reflects the level of training, skill and knowledge that they’ve achieved.

But when your job title isn’t one that people recognize it has less meaning. That’s why, when I was just finishing graduate school, the National Association of Social Workers began a campaign of saying, “Wherever you go, whatever you do, say you’re a social worker.”

They wanted the general public to start getting a better idea of the broad range of jobs that social workers do, and how they contribute to the fabric of our society in many different ways. They also wanted to help people working as social workers gain a more professional status at the same time.

Today, one of the growth fields in an era of massive unemployment is the field of caregiving. Open any newspaper’s want ads or look at any online job board and you’ll see this immediately: caregiving is a field that has openings.

But it’s also a field where workers are frequently undervalued and underpaid. Many caregivers work for minimum wage or just a little above, with no health care benefits, paid vacation or sick leave.

It’s not really surprising that the national turnover rate in caregiver positions approaches 200% today.

In some states caregivers are organizing with the help of labor unions, demanding respect and professional recognition. That’s one approach, but not the only approach.

There’s another way that’s even more effective because it’s even more grass-roots. That’s when every single caregiver says, “I’m a professional caregiver,” and begins to ask for respect and benefits.

PHI advocates for the term Personal Care Aide. This term has been accepted by the federal Office of Management and Budget, too.

Our company is preparing to launch a comprehensive certification course for Personal Care Aides, allowing them to complete 40 hours of foundational training completely online. We’re instructing graduates to identify themselves as Certified Personal Care Aides.

We’re telling them: “Wherever you go, whatever you do, say you’re a Certified PCA.”

Together, we’ll begin to raise the bar for caregiver professionalism.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

THAT’S my caregiver?

I had the pleasure of catching up with one of the first people I ever hired to be a caregiver. She was not only one of my first, she was, hands’ down, one of my best. She ended up working for me until we sold our business 13 years after I hired her.

Today she works as a private caregiver for a gentleman who requires total care. It’s physically and emotionally challenging. While she’s not “old”, she’s no longer a spring chicken, either, and is feeling every one of her years.

In the course of this caregiving, she has supported the family numerous days during brief hospitalizations. She has witnessed the full gamut of caregivers: Some great, some awful.

She has become a passionate spokesperson for improved training, compensation, and treatment of caregivers as a result.

“If we don’t pay attention to how we’re treating caregivers, we’re going to get, as caregivers, those people who can’t get any other job,” she says. “I don’t know about you, but that’s not the person that I want to take care of me when I’m old and frail!”

Vickie’s got a good point. As our generation ages, and we face the need to find caregiving solutions for our mothers and fathers – and someday, ourselves – we need to give some very serious thought to who we want providing that care.

Who do we want to help us bathe?

Who do we want to prepare our meals?

Who do we want in our homes, helping with the most intimate and personal of tasks?

I’m not being critical of any individual or group of people, but I do think this is worthy of our consideration. We, as a society, seem to have little regard for caregivers when our own life or our loved ones’ aren’t impacted. We pay them minimum wage, offer few or no benefits, and generally regard them as lower-tier workers. How are we going to attract anyone other than those individuals who don’t have a passion for the job but can’t work anyplace else?

Without a change in perception by society as a whole, we will miss the opportunity to attract those people who have a caring, compassionate, dedicated heart – but need to pay their rent.

We’ll miss the opportunity to change the face of caregiving, until it’s too late and we’re desperately trying to find someone who will care for us or our loved ones.

It’s time to set the bar a little higher. It’s time to create a professional caregiver – a Personal Care Aide – that is trained, certified, and respected: A person who can earn a living wage, and who can be proud to say, “I’m a professional caregiver.”

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Careers in caring: investing in ourselves builds human capital

The last few months have been all about loss of capital. Nearly 12 years of gains in savings, investments, 401ks, and assets vanished almost overnight for most people.

But what about the toll on the human capital? In my state, the front page of the daily newspaper reports an average loss of 775 jobs each day over the past several months. That level of loss boggles my mind. The human toll is staggering: On individuals, families, and companies.

My entire career has been focused on caring for people. I started in mental health counseling, helping people cope with fractured relationships, emotions, and families. Twice during my career I have worked for crisis lines, once building one from the ground up in a remote rural community.

While I’m in favor of spending money on highways and bridges, I’m even more supportive of investing in human capital. It’s people, after all, that make the difference when you’re sick or emotionally anguished – not the beautiful, new medical center with all the latest diagnostic tools.

It’s people that matter most when your mom is ill; when your dad is injured; when your loved one can no longer take care of basic personal needs without assistance. In healthcare, the people providing the care are the most valuable assets of all.

Many of us, world-wide, are slowing down just a little right now. We’re stopping before we shop, instead of shopping ‘til we drop. We’re waiting to see what will happen, before we rush out to take the trip of a lifetime or make that big purchase.

We’re examining what’s important in life and what new plan we should consider. Many of us are at a career crossroads, where we must choose a new employment direction, like it or not.

I believe it is an ideal time to invest in ourselves. It’s an ideal time to look at our hearts and think about our true values – what really brings us satisfaction and joy.

With a little extra time, we can invest in our own personal growth. Online education makes that easier, more convenient, and more accessible than ever before.

Studying online for a career in caring may be the perfect way for many to reinvest in our personal, human capital. Health and caregiving industries are among the few that are still hiring, and caring for others is a perfect way for us to find value in our lives.

I’m a “glass half full” kind of person. This crisis? It’s really just an opportunity to learn, grow, and build the sort of human capital that will benefit us all.