Other Voices: Caregivers need our respect, support
The caregiver is one of the most valuable resources in the delivery of health and home care. The time has come to let these paraprofessionals know how much we care about them.
Who is a caregiver? In home care, we refer to them as home care aides. This may be a college student who attends to the needs of a disabled young adult, a mother with young children who lacks academic credentials but possesses a nurturing, caring attitude and necessary skills to foster the healing of a frail senior or a middle-aged adult who has raised a family. These people seek to return to the work force to supplement his or her income. It may be a senior, male or female who cares for an ailing spouse, mother, father, child or friend. These examples help us understand the diverse people who are caregivers.
The overall goal is to return the client to an optimal level of functioning and help him or her maintain a realistic health status. The caregiver’s daily responsibilities are numerous.
Environmental needs such as cleanliness, light housekeeping, errands, shopping, meal preparation and laundry are an integral part of the caregiver’s role. He or she may perform personal care, range of motion activities, skin, hair and oral care, transfer a client from bed to wheelchair, use prosthetic devices and educate family members about how to cope with an ill relative. The caregiver takes care of children, provides emotional support in times of stress and interacts with families at the time of death.
The workers need a knowledge of infection control, spread of disease, cardiac-pulmonary resuscitation and how to handle emergencies. Keen observation skills are important when caring for victims of child or elder abuse. A more advanced home care aide learns to change dressings and assist with medications. The work is difficult and not always pleasant but must be performed with a great deal of dignity.
When will our system allow us to match our labor pool with the need that we know exists? Unemployment rates are high and yet thousands of disabled children, adults and seniors need care.
The qualifications for a caregiver or home care aide are maturity, gentleness, kindness, sensitivity and a willingness to answer human needs. Caregivers must possess intelligence, have keen observation skills, be physically able to perform the retired tasks and work well under professional supervision.
What we lack is a willingness on our part to pay better than minimum wage. These workers need decent wages, vacation and sick time and a retirement plan. They need more training in body mechanics, infection control, planning and serving nutritious meals and how to interact with sometimes dysfunctional families.
As we forge ahead with long-term care, let’s not ignore the most essential ingredient of the system. A caregiver must meet both social and medical needs of the home care patient. There needs to be a plan for training programs across the country to match caregivers with the need.
The challenge for the home care industry is to provide paraprofessionals with fair wages and benefits. Concurrently, we must enhance the image of this dignified long-term care worker so as to attract qualified, committed individuals who will provide quality care to thousands of ill, disabled children, adults and senior citizens who desperately need their care.
Caregivers are jewels in our society. We trust them to serve those we love. Let’s stop treating these worthy workers like second-class citizens.
Jane L. Hull is a retired chairwoman of the advisory board of the Home Care Aide Association of America.
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