November is National Home Care & Hospice Month, and CareAcademy honors the contributions of direct care workers (DCWs) and the value they bring to their clients and families. These heroic caregivers play a central role in our healthcare system and in homes across the nation.
Last year disrupted all industries, and the home care market was no exception. And while the COVID-19 crisis has slowed as vaccines rolled out in the US, the incredible disruption has created seeds of opportunity for the home care industry. One of the sayings that I am most fond of is to “never waste a crisis.” The pandemic has created a number of critical advancements and opportunities, including the rise of telehealth and higher acuity of care at home, and the challenges that we face, including a workforce shortage that threatens the ecosystem.
As we reflect on these last 15 months, it's important to identify the product of those seeds: excellent home care is now excellent healthcare.
A Year Like No Other
In March 2020, lives around the world were upended when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Stay-at-home measures were put in place, lay-offs and furloughs skyrocketed overnight as companies retrenched in the face of a global shut down. People across the country suddenly, and unexpectedly, faced a difficult choice between paying their rent or putting food on the table.
Home care was not spared. The direct care workforce we support had to balance supporting their families with going to work in the face of a devastating disease that was still coming into focus. PPE shortages, risk factors, and transmission pathways were still very much unknown.
Meanwhile, in the US, the pandemic happened concurrently with a racial reckoning with the murders of George Floyd, Breona Taylor, and Ahmaud Arberry. An already challenging year was made even more difficult.
How We Responded at CareAcademy
Our team at CareAcademy quickly recognized the need for a class about preventing the spread of COVID-19, and caring for infected patients that empowered direct care workers with knowledge. These caregivers were dealing firsthand with the heightened risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 from or to those in their care.
Following a four-day team effort, on March 20, we launched our class “COVID-19: A Guide for Direct Care Workers” to help prepare direct care workers to perform critical frontline work during COVID-19 and gain relevant, reliable information about the virus. Enrollees also learned how to care for themselves and their care recipients during the pandemic. To-date, nearly 44,000 people have completed this free class.
Trial and Innovation
Before the pandemic even began, the need for healthcare in the home was already growing rapidly due to an aging population. In response to the pandemic, this trend has grown even faster than anticipated. COVID-19’s impact has been far-reaching and many anticipate that a majority of the changes to home care we’ve witnessed over the last 12 months are here to stay. Healthcare in the home is here, now.
This pandemic has also taken its toll on caregivers’ mental health due to social isolation and navigating changes in their personal lives, such as sourcing child care, online learning, and how to keep their families safe and healthy. Over 75% of caregivers report feeling more burnt out than ever before due to caring for another person during the COVID-19 pandemic. But it’s not just professional caregivers who have felt this way during the pandemic, 64 percent of family caregivers reported feeling depressed due to the stresses of caregiving.
We’ve learned together new ways of working and delivering essential trainings that communicate the information direct care workers need to perform their jobs safely even as demand continues to rise, but we need to continue delivering support to these individuals to make sure everyone’s needs are being met.
The Road Ahead
We know that even a year later the challenges of caregiving during this pandemic are still evolving and that although there are vaccines, the pandemic is far from over. It’s important that we meet caregivers where they are and answer their questions without judgment while helping them overcome accessibility issues.
We have continued to meet the pressing needs of our stakeholders and caregivers with a timely course on the much-discussed COVID-19 vaccine: COVID-19 Vaccine Class for Direct Care Workers. This course has helped equip direct care workers with the knowledge to make informed decisions regarding vaccination. By providing relevant, reliable information about the vaccine and vaccination process, we have helped shed light on these issues to break down barriers and educate based on facts and research.
While the COVID-19 crisis is far from over, we at CareAcademy are committed to providing reliable information and education to caregivers and home care agencies so they can continue delivering excellent care to their patients.
What’s more, to support caregivers beyond the confines of the pandemic, we’ve also launched the CAREer Path Initiative, an all-encompassing program designed to address critical industry constraints and attract more workers into the profession. This program translates CareAcademy training into college credits through a collaboration with Southern New Hampshire University, recognizing the hard work of existing direct care workers and helping to attract new talent. Providing upskilling opportunities for the direct care workforce is critical for meeting growing demand, and making the home a sustainable point of care for generations to come.
With healthcare pivoting to the home, our work is never more important! I am proud of our team and all that we have accomplished, and excited for what lies ahead.