Home health aides work with those who live in their own homes or in residential facilities. They also care for clients in hospices and day programs and help people with disabilities go to work and stay active in their communities. They may care for those who have been discharged from hospitals who need short-term care.
Most home health aides work for certified home health or hospice agencies that must comply with regulations to receive funding. They normally work under the direct supervision of a medical professional, usually a nurse. Sometimes home health aides give patients their medications, help with exercises, change simple dressings, assist with braces and artificial limbs and provide skin care. Some home health aides receive special training so that they can assist with medical equipment such as ventilators.
Home health aides should see excellent job opportunities because of rapid growth in home healthcare and high replacement needs.
Training requirements are different in various states, and the type of home services agency and funding source covering the costs of services determines the required training.
To accommodate the needs of their clients, many home health aides work part-time and evenings or weekends.
Work Environment for Home Health Aides
Home health aides often face physically demanding situations, such as moving patients into and out of bed and helping them to walk. They may be exposed to communicable diseases and infections, but these can usually be avoided if proper procedures are followed. Home health aides have a higher-than-average number of work-related injuries and illnesses.
Some of the tasks that they perform can be unpleasant, such as changing soiled bed linens and caring for patients who may be irritable or disoriented. Many home health aides gain satisfaction from helping those in need, even though the work can be emotionally and physically draining.
Aides may work with several clients each day or they may work with other aides in shifts so that the client has an aide twenty-four hours a day. Home health aides usually work by themselves and travel from home to home to help clients.
Education, Training and Licensing
Home health aides are not usually required to have high school diplomas and are typically trained on the job by nurses, experienced aides or their supervisor. They may be trained in basic housekeeping tasks, such as making a bed and keeping the home clean and safe for the client. Others are instructed on cooking special diets for their clients. Almost all home health aides are trained to act in a courteous and professional manner while in a client’s home, how to respond to emergencies and basic safety techniques.
Those who work for certified home health or hospice agencies that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement must receive formal training and pass a competency test. A minimum of 75 hours of training are required that includes information on safe transfer techniques, personal hygiene, infection control, basic nutrition and reading and recording vital signs. Aides may take a competency exam to gain certification without taking any of the training, but at least 16 hours of supervised practical training are required before an aide has direct contact with a client. Some states require additional hours of training to earn certification.
Aides may earn national certification through the National Association for Home Care and Hospice (NAHC). This voluntary certification is granted after 75 hours of training as well as observation and assessment by a registered nurse and passing a written exam.
Employment Figures, Projections, Outlook and earnings
Home health aides held about 955,220 jobs in May 2009, according to research published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Most home health aides worked for home health care services, while others worked for residential mental retardation, mental health and substance abuse facilities, community care facilities for the elderly, individual and family services and nursing care facilities.
The BLS expects employment in this field to grow by 50% between 2008 and 2018, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. The increasing number of elderly people who will have health problems and need assistance will spur this growth. Additionally, many of the elderly will stay in their homes rather than expensive nursing homes or other in-patient facilities, and they will require home health aides.
BLS reports indicate that the median annual salary for home health aides was $20,480 as of May 2009. The middle 50% earned between $17,710 and $24,280, while the bottom 10% had an income of about $15,950 or less. The top 10% earned around $29,390 per year.