The national demand for home health-care nurses and aides is expected to increase 50 percent by 2018 due to the aging population. And as more people live longer with chronic illnesses, the type of care needed in homes is becoming increasingly complex. These factors put more health-care workers, and patients, at risk for injuries and accidents in the home.
But help is on the way. UMass Lowell is embarking on a new study to promote health and safety in the home-care industry. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) awarded the University a $1.8 million, four-year grant to research issues facing Massachusetts home-care nurses and aides and develop education and training programs.
“Home health-care nurses and aides are dedicated professionals and proud of the work they do. If they come into a home with little space to work and they know that this patient needs assistance, they will not leave until they find a way,” says Margaret Quinn, the study’s principal investigator and a professor in UMass Lowell’s Work Environment Department.
The study builds upon Project SHARRP (Safe Homecare and Risk Reduction for Providers), a previous UMass Lowell study funded by NIOSH that evaluated the risks to home health-care workers associated with needle-stick injuries and other blood exposures. The results published in the American Journal of Public Health, the most influential publication in the field indicated that needle-stick injuries pose a serious risk to home health-care nurses and aides.
But Quinn and her research team found that such workers encountered other serious risks. Typically working alone, these workers often make difficult decisions about patient care and their own safety.
“We were really surprised at the seriousness of the conditions that home-care nurses and aides confront on a daily basis. We uncovered a world where these ‘invisible’ workers face issues such as needles and dressings left on counters, cluttered rooms with no place to work and physical strain of lifting patients without assistive devices,” says Quinn.
“At times, they encounter much more serious issues, including evidence of elder neglect and violence in the home or in the neighborhood. Our work ultimately aims to identify safer practices and to work with home-care agencies, trade associations and unions to implement them. Safe and healthy home-care workers means better patient care.”
UMass Lowell is partnering with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Occupational Health Surveillance Program, home-care agencies, labor unions and government agencies. The research will include an industrywide survey, focus groups, one-on-one interviews and the development of training materials.