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UMass Lowell Awarded $2M Grant to Protect Home Healthcare Practitioners


LOWELL - The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has awarded the University of Massachusetts Lowell a four-year $2 million grant for prevention of needlestick injuries and blood exposures among home healthcare practitioners.  UMass Lowell (UML) will form a partnership with industry, labor and state government to improve the working lives of those practitioners throughout eastern and central Massachusetts. 

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 600,000 to 800,000 injuries occur annually nationwide in all healthcare settings from needles and other sharp devices, potentially leading to hepatitis and HIV infection.  Most prevention efforts have been focused on hospitals, and little attention has been given to the rapidly growing home healthcare industry, which is predicted to increase 68 percent within the next decade.  In 2000, there were 20,655 home healthcare practitioners employed in Massachusetts and that number is expected to nearly double by 2008, according to First Research.

NIOSH awarded the grant to the newly-established School of Health and Environment at UMass Lowell.  Under the leadership of Professor Margaret Quinn in the Department of Work Environment, the research will identify working conditions which put home healthcare practitioners at risk of injuries like needlesticks, work with the partners to set up efficient systems for tracking and analyzing injury patterns, and design ways to help home healthcare providers work safely while continuing to deliver the best quality care.  The new study is named Project SHARRP - Safe Homecare and Risk Reduction for Providers.

 "By forming diverse partnerships within our community and by combining scientific research with education, we'll be able to help the growing population of home healthcare providers lead safer, healthier and more productive lives", said Dr. Quinn.

Other members of the research team include Dr. Stephanie Chalupka of the Department of Nursing, Dr. David Kriebel of the Department of Work Environment and Dr. Letitia Davis, Director of the Occupational Health Surveillance Program at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Project SHARRP is a collaborative effort with five leading home healthcare agencies and labor unions: VNA Care Network, which operates within 200 communities in the region; the UMass Memorial Home Health and Hospice in Worcester; Winchester Home Care; the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA); and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2020.

"This grant perfectly reflects the mission of our new School of Health and Environment," said Dr. David H. Wegman, dean of UML School of Health and Environment.  "We'll be able to advance safety and quality of work life in the fast-growing home healthcare industry, thus helping to reduce the shortage of these professionals."

"At UMass Lowell, we want to help the economy thrive, not just by adding jobs, but by making sure they are jobs people want to have," said Provost John Wooding.  "That's what a sustainable economic future is all about," he added.

About UMass Lowell School of Health and Environment

Established in April 2004, the School of Health and Environment at UMass Lowell was created to promote human health and development that enable people to live in safe and productive communities and environmentally sustainable economies. The school includes the departments of Health and Clinical Sciences, Nursing, Physical Therapy and Work Environment.

Partner Media Contacts

For more information from the partner organizations, contact: VNA Care Network, Deborah Corkum, 888-663-3688, X1362; UMass Memorial Medical Center, Worcester, Mass., Alison Duffy, 508-856-2000; Winchester Hospital, 781-756-2219; SEIU 2020, Susan Maxwell, 617-989-8010; Massachusetts Nursing Association, David Schildmeier, 781-249-0430; Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Nicole St. Peter, 617-624-5006.




Project SHARRP--Safe Homecare and Risk Reduction for Providers


The ultimate objective of Project SHARRP is to protect the rapidly growing population of home healthcare practitioners in Massachusetts from risks associated with needlestick injuries and blood exposures.  The 4-year $2M grant received from National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health will allow UMass Lowell School of Health and Environment to research the number of injuries, identify risk factors, and develop tracking and analyzing systems--all to develop prevention methods to improve the way home healthcare is delivered and attract practitioners to the field.

Significant Job Growth Predicted in Home Healthcare Industry

The home healthcare industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the U.S.  Due to the increasing aging population, 68% growth in the home healthcare workforce is anticipated over the next ten years.  In 2000 in Massachusetts, there were 20,655 home healthcare practitioners employed in 342 home healthcare establishments.  It is projected that home healthcare agencies will double in size, generating 18,800 new jobs in Massachusetts by 2008.

Injuries in Healthcare

For all healthcare settings, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that 600,000 to 800,000 injuries occur annually nationwide from needles and other sharp devices (often referred to as "sharps" in the healthcare industry).  Hospital injuries account for only half, or about 385,000.  The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has an injury reporting system for hospitals yet there is no comparable system for home healthcare.  Therefore, one of the goals of Project SHARRP is to identify the frequency and nature of the injuries unique to the home environment.

Potential Risks

Healthcare providers are at risk of infection from blood exposures, primarily as a result of injuries from needlesticks and other sharp devices, such as lancets and scalpels.  Occupational exposures can result in debilitating or fatal diseases like hepatitis A, B, C or HIV.  Even the post-exposure treatment can have serious health, emotional and economic consequences for caregivers and their families.

Failing to Report Exposures

Tracking and analyzing sharps injuries and blood exposures in healthcare settings is limited because healthcare providers often fail to report exposures to their employers. Estimated underreporting rates for sharps injuries among U.S. hospital workers range from 39% to 56%.  Healthcare providers may fail to report sharps injuries because of denial or fear of the diseases they have been exposed to, concerns about job security or the extra paperwork and time involved in follow-up. 

Partners Will Reach Home Healthcare Providers in Mass.

Project SHARRP research will be conducted by a multi-disciplinary team from the Department of Work Environment and the Department of Nursing at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and the Occupational Health Surveillance Program in the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.  Industry partners include three large home health care agencies--VNA Care Network, UMass Memorial Home Health and Hospice, and Winchester Home Care--and two labor unions--Massachusetts Nurses Association and Service Employee International Union, Local 2020--with nurses, aides, and other home health care workers as members.   The partner agencies and unions represent a large portion of home healthcare practitioners in eastern Massachusetts.  The VNA Care Network, for instance, is the second largest home healthcare corporation in the U.S. and serves more than 200 communities in eastern and central Massachusetts.

Project SHARRP Goals

The research design will use both quantitative and qualitative methods to accomplish the following goals:

  • Establish a reporting system for sharps injuries and other blood exposures by adapting the Massachusetts Sharps Injury Surveillance System for use in the three large home healthcare agencies, and gather sharps injury and blood exposure data for two years.

2.   Conduct surveys of home health care workers in the agencies and unions to understand the risk factors for blood exposures, the magnitude of and reasons for reporting and underreporting of these exposures, and the barriers and incentives for the use of medical safety devices.   Using survey data, identify factors that affect reporting behavior, exposure/injury, and the availability and use of medical safety devices.

3.  Work with the home health care agencies and unions to identify the institutional barriers and incentives for safety programs, exposure/injury reporting, and medical safety device availability and use.

4.   Analyze data from the reporting system, quantify blood exposure and sharps injury rates in the home health care setting, and compare them to Massachusetts hospitals.

5.   Disseminate the findings to the study participants and agency/union partners and more widely in the home healthcare industry and the scientific community. Develop educational materials to facilitate the selection and use of products and practices to reduce injuries, risks and exposures in the home healthcare setting.

For more information, contact or 978-934-3224