A senior moment: The basic need for aging in place

By Danna Downing

We are living in a time when baby boomers and others could be enjoying longer, more active lives. However, more years of quality living require support from caregivers and other senior providers for older adults to age in place successfully

In order to meet this challenge, the most critical need is for skilled direct-care workers. A direct-care worker assists older adults and people with disabilities with daily tasks across all the long-term care support and service arenas. Direct-care workers are formally classified as personal care aides, home health aides and nursing assistants, but their specific job titles vary according to where they work and the populations they serve. Direct-care workers, including available family members, allow our loved ones to stay at home as long as possible. Staying home can mean increased safety, comfort, and quality of life for individuals and their family caregivers. It is also much more cost effective for all concerned

Many individual home care agencies are very diligent about their hiring and training practices and seek high quality persons to do this important work. But there currently exists a patchwork of standards and practices that vary from agency to agency and state to state. Thank goodness for the IMPART Alliance, a group of resolute professionals who have been working on a multi-year advocacy program to improve jobs for direct-care workers in Michigan, New Mexico, and North Carolina. This initiative focuses on advancing three public health policy reform areas: compensation, data management, and innovative strategies in training, credentialing and development of career pathways that will increase interest in doing this critical work.

According to Dr. Clare Luz, Ph.D., director of the IMPART Alliance, “It will not help to simply raise wages without addressing underlying systemic factors that have contributed to these low wages for decades.” That is why the IMPART Alliance is focused on professionalizing this workforce by working with direct-care workers to set up professional and ethical standards, training and competency requirements and a recognized credential. “We believe this will ultimately lead to better wages, better jobs, more respect for direct-care workers and consequently contribute to better outcomes for older adults and persons with disabilities, states Luz.

In 2010, Better Training-Building Quality (BTBQ) was funded from a federal grant. The purpose of the grant was to help Luz and her team to develop and widely pilot a personal care aide training program. In 2016, Luz and her team received another grant, this time from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund. The purpose of this grant was to help establish the IMPART Alliance and enable it to scale up BTBQ for wider distribution while also working toward a culture change and a more robust structure to support the direct-care workforce and deliver quality services to those in need. To date, the initiative has also developed and launched a training program for high school students. In addition, the group is now mid-process in creating one of the first direct-care worker professional associations in the country. Slow and steady progress has been the name of the game with all key stakeholders included in the process.

In 2017, Luz completed a fellowship that afforded her the opportunity to move across Michigan interviewing 30 individual direct-care workers. To my mind, one of the most important findings was her discovery that even though direct-care workers cannot earn a livable wage, they stay with it because they love their work and their clients. “Their stories reveal remarkable skills that are essential to the job (not just technical hands-on care) but also traits such as staying calm, creative problem solving, and extraordinary patience,” she reports. That motivates her and her team to work hard on this potential solution.

For those who are interested in this topic and would like to learn more, reach out to join forces with this hard-working team by going to http://www.impartalliance.com or email impart@msu.edu. Google “It’s Time to Care: A Detailed Profile of America’s Direct-care Workforce”. This publication is available for download and is produced by PHI, a respected policy research and advocacy organization based in New York. For all of us, it is important to learn the vocabulary and the issues of aging in place/community and start making plans.

Leave a Reply