NYTimes: Investment in Training Crucial to Home Health Growth

The talent shortage in the home health sector has been a grim reality haunting many agencies, and if the industry doesn’t do anything to attract more frontline caregivers, the shortage will cause more than just a hiring issue, as illustrated in a recent piece in the New York Times.

Numerous economic factors contribute to this shortage. Among them is the fact that more than half of the registered nursing population is 50 years of age or older, with many flocking to less strenuous nursing jobs in lieu of bedside nursing, including fast food.

Exacerbating this issue is the reality that many of these nurses leave their bedside nursing jobs between the ages of 52 and 55, and that the home health profession, overall, is a low-wage paying job.

But for Paul Osterman, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management quoted in the article, investing in the education and training of home health care providers not only combats the issue, it can also help save the industry millions in dollars and resources.

“If aides received more training, and if scope of practice restrictions were loosened, they could do more, their jobs would be better and the system would save money via better transitions [of patients] out of hospitals, fewer ER visits and health coaching,” Osterman wrote in an e-mail to Home Health Care News. Osterman has been conducting research into the talent shortage in the industry and how improving home health jobs can improve the quality and efficiency of the system.

Home health aides can play a larger role in the lives of patients, beyond just tending to their regular day-to-day needs. Assisting patients with preventative activities—like monitoring their blood pressure, keeping tabs on their doctors appointments and making sure patients take their medication—can help the health care system rake in billions in savings.

In fact, according to a 2011 Emory University study cited in the article, transitional care models could reduce Medicare spending by roughly $150 billion over the next decade, while health and lifestyle coaching that work on medication adherence could also reduce an additional $100 billion in spending over the next decade.

However, entrusting home health aides—and increasing their wages—is not an easy task.

On the reimbursement front, many states budgets are already strapped for funding; between fiscal year 2010-2014, the average annual growth in Medicaid spending in the U.S. increased 5.2%, and in fiscal year 2016, total Medicaid spending in the U.S. was $553 billion, according to data from The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

There are also nursing unions who fear that home health aides are intruding into their territory, and are fighting against expanding the role of aides, according to the New York Times article.

However, the role that home health care providers and agencies play in improving patient outcomes and overall quality of life is proving significant, and is being realized more and more by those in and outside the industry.

The Home Centered Care Institute, for example, has recently partnered with eight academic institutions, including the Cleveland Clinic and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, to launch a new home health care training program.

And while partnerships between health systems and home health agencies are nothing new, one North Carolina-based system has embraced the role of technology in its home health plan to ultimately reduce hospital readmission rates among chronic patients by 53%.

Written by Carlo Calma