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Explosion of direct-care workforce will cause industry change

As the federal government continues to push for home care services to keep patients out of more costly care settings, a new analysis estimates that the country’s direct-care workers providing hands-on long-term care will outnumber healthcare facility workers by more than two-to-one. This boom in the direct-care workforce will mean the industry will face changes.

The direct-care workforce is expected to add 1.6 million jobs to the economy in the next decade, totaling approximately 5 million workers by 2020, found an analysis by the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI), a nonprofit advocating for the direct-care workforce and improvements in long-term care.

Such figures would make the direct-care workforce – personal care aides, nursing aides, orderlies, attendants, home health aides and others – the largest occupational group in the country, PHI estimates, and would make those workers a powerful force.

[See also: Minimum wage and overtime protection proposed for home care workers; DoL extends comment period on home care worker wage protection .]

“Carework in America is at a crossroads,” said Dorie Seavey, PhD, director of policy research at PHI. “We can continue the status quo, adding direct-care positions that are poorly supported and poorly compensated, and then backfill them with public assistance. Or we can acknowledge this workforce as a key underutilized asset in our healthcare system and exploit its enormous potential as one of the strongest job engines that our economy has to offer.”

Channeling that potential could mean higher-quality jobs with better pay, benefits and labor standards and improved care for patients, argues Caring Across Generations, a campaign to give a voice to home care workers in the U.S. launched last summer by the National Domestic Workers Alliance and a host of partners, including PHI.

A larger, more powerful direct-care workforce is also likely to gain the attention of state and local governments, Seavey noted.

Federal and state governmental agencies are already discussing how to connect patients and their families with qualified workers, with matching registries topping the list of solutions.

Some state and local governments are already creating programs to develop the education and training of their direct-care workers. “The tremendous growth of the country’s home care workforce is creating greater federal and state interest in how to better support and train these workers,” she said. “The hope is that the training standards established under these (state programs) will become the gold standard for future training for direct-care workers in home and community settings.”