Thursday, June 11, 2009
IN MY OPINION (Column)
The Future of Becoming Older on Our Own Terms
By TED RUHIG
To take care of its elderly, this country will eventually need, if present patterns persist, hundreds of thousands of home health care aides. Beguiled by this possibility, a writer, Paula Span, has authored a book entitled “When the Time Comes: Families with Aging Parents Share their Struggles and Solutions.” This book, scheduled to be released in June of this year, should make quite a splash.
The Washington Post devoted several pages of a recent issue of its National Weekly Edition to a review of Span’s book. The review references Bureau of Labor Statistics data, which show that a 50 percent increase in the number of home health care aides will be necessary by 2016.
This job is thus the nation’s second-largest needed occupation, right after “computer experts.” Yet Forbes magazine’s annual list of the worst-paid jobs in America always includes home care aides. Parking lot attendants make more.
We Americans are surviving longer and longer. A man who attains 65 years of age can be expected to reach 82. A woman who reaches age 65 can be expected to reach 85. But those end years of life may well be confounded by the onset of Alzheimer’s or coping with congestive heart failure or some other debilitating disease.
Those with such illnesses will need a great deal of health assistance. Even those who may not be sick, but are simply slowing down — or are unable to drive or cook or pay bills anymore with ease — will need assistance. Given that most folks want to age at home, the need for help in the home will be very great.
Finding reliable, compassionate caregivers to help seniors stay in their homes is now a challenge, and it will become even more difficult as the number of needy seniors continues to increase. When baby boomers begin to need help to stay in their homes, how are they going to find enough aides to hire if those aides make such a small salary that they’re eligible for food stamps?
Most of those who do perform home health care work are women, and many are foreign born. Slightly more than half are white, about a quarter is African-American, and 16 percent are Hispanic.
Although the majority of home health care workers find their jobs intrinsically rewarding, not only are they paid low wages, but they have limited or no benefits, high workloads, unsafe working conditions, inadequate training, a lack of control over their jobs and few opportunities for advancement — all of which contribute to high turnover rate.
It is interesting and coincidental that Time magazine just last week ran a story on “The Future of Work.” While the story did not mention home health care aides specifically, it did discuss the sense of morality that is beginning to permeate our economic society. It pointed out that more people, in the process of determining a job path, are becoming concerned not only about doing well, but by giving back to society.
Certainly, a home health care aide is one of those jobs that can “give back.”
However, in order for home health care to become a career path with staying power, a number of steps must be considered. The following recommendations were recently listed in a New York Times blog titled “The New Old Age”:
•The home health care industry needs to push harder to provide higher wages, more benefits and more professional recognition for certified home health aides.
•Home health care aides need specialized training in order to understand the combination of pertinent medical, social and psychological issues and how they will interact with their clients.
•Standards need to be developed and adopted for home health aides so that the buyers of services — us — can have a higher degree of comfort about the services being purchased.
•Certified home health aides need to be part of a career path which allows health aides to move upward in the medical employment chain so that the most talented people can be attracted to this critical field.
•Home health aides need to be integrated into the clinical care team involved with the client, including nurses, doctors and other health specialists.
As our life expectancy rates continue to increase, the goal of continuing to live a pleasant, civilized life will drive many of our actions. Hiring an appropriately qualified home health care aide may well be one of those strategies to help us reach that goal.
— Capitol News Service