Home health care workers face unique risks

Many Americans move to assisted living communities when they get older and caring for themselves and their home becomes challenging. However, many more prefer to remain in their homes and hire a personal care provider to assist them.

Home health care agencies have flourished with this growing market for in-home care. In 2016, about two million people were employed as personal care attendants in this country. That number is expected to continue to grow.

Many of these people, who come from various backgrounds in health care and social work, are employed by home health care agencies. The job of being a personal care attendant can be both fulfilling and challenging. It can also be hazardous.

All health care workers have a higher-than-average risk of injury. Musculoskeletal injuries from lifting patients are common. So are needlesticks. Health care professionals are often the victims of verbal, emotional and physical abuse from patients who have dementia and other cognitive and mental issues.

However, home care workers are at even greater risk because they often work in isolation with their care recipients. There's no one to protect them if that person becomes violent or abusive -- or a family member does. Sometimes, they lack the proper training to deal with these and other difficult situations.

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) recently looked at the unique challenges faced by these workers. The IHI made recommendations for home health care agencies to help improve their safety on the job. These include:

  • Creating a safety culture: This means that those providing care as well as care recipients and their families should be expected to call attention to safety concerns. This can benefit both the care providers and care recipients.
  • Increased communication with other care providers and organizations: Home care, like hospice care, can be a team effort involving the individual provider, the home care agency they work for and perhaps relevant social service agencies.

Home health care providers who suffer injuries on the job need to inform their employer of their injury, a sexual assault or if they're the victim of verbal or emotional abuse in the home where they're working. There may be challenges in proving that an injury occurred on the job since there may be no reliable witnesses. However, employers are still required to address their employees' injuries and provide workers' compensation if needed.

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