Since the 1900s, American jobs have been classified by their skill level, with workers in on-demand gigs and warehousing jobs, to fast food and homecare, being considered “unskilled” or “non-skilled.” But this dynamic, with help from the COVID-19 pandemic, has changed rapidly.

Often, developments within an industry or technological advancements can breathe new life into a longstanding profession or field of study, giving those within it a fresh outlook and raising outsiders’ opinions of said industry. We’ve seen it countless times before, and many experts confirm that the homecare industry is in the midst of this transformative evolution – and not a moment too soon. We in the industry have known for quite some time that homecare aides are worth their weight in gold, and it’s rewarding to see that realization take hold in a broader base of consumers. It’s easy to take for granted those who work tirelessly behind the scenes to provide an important service, sometimes even overlooking just how valuable their work is … until it’s in short supply. Perhaps the ongoing workforce shortage in the homecare industry has led others to appreciate the compassionate care and assistance offered by homecare workers, nudging them into the limelight and putting an undeniable emphasis on the critical role they play in today’s healthcare market.

This service-industry phenomenon is not unlike other recent instances, fueled by the pandemic, where it dawns on consumers that it takes all kinds of dedicated people to keep the world running – and while they’re all different, they’re all very critical in their own ways.

Flipping the Script in Homecare

The homecare sector is experiencing a shake-up in narrative. Homecare jobs may be filled by entry-level workers, but their jobs are so much more important than the descriptor “entry-level” implies. Homecare workers are on the front lines of healthcare, often observing and evaluating daily the condition of people who are aging, have disabilities, or are recovering from illness. In their line of work, there’s almost no end to the complex, hands-on tasks they’re required to handle, including (but not limited to) collecting and analyzing clinical knowledge about their patients’ conditions, understanding how their work fits into the patient’s overall care plan, monitoring and recording social determinants of health, providing assistance with routine daily activities like dressing and bathing, physically supporting their clients to allow for mobility, keeping the lines of communication open and respectful, and maintaining flexibility in their own daily schedules so they can contend with unexpected needs and situations, which do arise quite often.

For too long, homecare workers have been undervalued and underutilized from a healthcare perspective. Low wages – stemming from devaluation of labor performed in homes – combined with lack of benefits, long hours, demanding physical work, inadequate training, and little opportunity for career growth have resulted in turnover rates that have reached 60% nationwide.

However, the passionate individuals who face these adversities head-on understand the critical impact their roles have on the overarching healthcare ecosystem. In fact, many derive personal satisfaction in delivering compassionate care that helps others lead better, healthier lives. Often, though, these intangibles are overshadowed by the factors prompting homecare workers to leave the profession in droves.

A New Perception about the Homecare Worker Career

Given that homecare is among the fastest-growing professions in the country, now is the time to truly shine a bright light on the criticality of homecare staffers and continue shifting perceptions about their essential work. To do so, we all collectively must focus on improving employees’ skill sets through training and providing the right support system, enabling them to positively affect the health and quality of life for those in their care, thus increasing the likelihood they’ll continue their career paths.

The starting point is addressing the provisions that positively affect employees’ lives – such as increasing hourly wages and creating benefits packages that account for homecare workers’ needs. But that’s only the beginning. The workplace culture must evolve, too, providing the training to help homecare workers succeed, as well as the rewards and incentives for jobs well done. Homecare agencies can strive to ensure their employees understand the opportunity for career growth, such as by outlining the steps and skills required to evolve from entry-level personal care aide positions to administrative roles – or even to new positions in the healthcare field, such as nursing.

Upskilling and an encouraging workplace culture can immediately impact homecare workers’ job satisfaction levels, prompting a long-term commitment to the profession. More importantly, though, happier and well-trained homecare workers play an important role on the frontlines of the healthcare continuum by delivering higher quality care in the home and lowering healthcare costs overall.

For example, a long-term focus on upskilling and care team integration among the California In-Home Supportive Services program’s 6,000 homecare workers resulted in a 41% decline in the rate of repeat emergency department visits and a 43% decline in the rate of rehospitalization, saving as much as $12,000 per patient.

Short-term skill-building can be equally impactful. VNS Health Personal Care in New York, for example, developed a program targeting symptom identification, condition management and promotion of health behaviors and medication adherence for its home health aides. This program yielded statistically significant improvements in self-care and quality of life among high-risk patients.

By lending support to the transformation that is in effect while providing adequate training and nurturing workplaces, we can elevate workers’ roles and offer a clear path portraying homecare as a desirable profession rife with opportunities to build a long and successful career.

For additional tips on how your homecare agency can further redefine the role of your caregivers while also reducing turnover and retaining staff, check out this informative piece written by our very own Stephen Vaccaro, HHAeXchange president.