Home Health Aides Poised for Larger Role in New Jersey

New Jersey is considering allowing home health aides to expand their role, delegating them some the duties typically performed by nurses.

Some of the duties that home health aides could perform under the regulatory change, but that they are currently not legally allowed to do, include administering medication and other minor medical help. Under current law, only nurses are allowed to perform these duties, though the modification would bring the delegated tasks under nursing supervision. The supervising nurse would be responsible for the succeeding level of oversight.

The role of home health aides can vary, but expanding the types of services they can legally perform could reduce some of the caregiving burden on family members who may be taking care of a loved one and potentially the use of institutionalized care. Expanding duties home health aides are allowed to perform can increase family support by supplementing tasks family members may already be doing.

“It’s precisely the kinds of things that home health aides and nurses do, that can prevent people from being readmitted to the hospital,” Joel Cantor, director of the Center for State Health Policy at Rutgers University, told NewsWorks.

Fewer than a dozen states allow nurses to delegate tasks including administering medication, though modifications can save money across the health care system. Under current conditions, nurses may feel wary about the risks of delegating tasks, while home health agencies may fear liability implications as a result of state regulations, according to a report published by Rutgers Center for State Health Policy published in 2011.

The Rutgers report revealed no adverse outcomes to consumer health by delegating some nurses’ tasks to aides in pilot study in New Jersey. Both aides and consumers expressed higher levels of satisfaction and positive health effects.

“Having an aide to help with the family care gave the family caregivers peace of mind knowing their family member would be well cared for,” the report concluded of the pilot study. “Delegation offered timely and consistent delivery of care. Several participants suggested that nurse delegation helped reduce the risk of future health complications and medical visits, as well as provide a mechanism for clients to leave or avert nursing homes by having someone available to care for them.”

To delegate some tasks, nurses may need to train home health aides and increase communication between health providers.

The New Jersey State Board of Nursing already approved the rule change, according to NewsWorks. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s administration has to legally vet the modification before it can be signed into law.

Written by Amy Baxter