Home Health Aide: A Career of Compassion

Career is in high demand — need for HHA should continue for many years

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Home AideThe Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that the job title of home health aide (HHA) should increase by 36%, “much faster than average” compared with other employment between 2018 and 2028.

The BLS described the job duties of a home health aide as, “Provide routine individualized healthcare such as changing bandages and dressing wounds, and applying topical medications to the elderly, convalescents, or persons with disabilities at the patient’s home or in a care facility. Monitor or report changes in health status. May also provide personal care such as bathing, dressing, and grooming of patient.”

Beyond the ability to help with clients’ activities of daily living, Andrea Lazarek-LaQuay, chief clinical officer at Nascentia Health based in Syracuse, looks for in applicants “the ‘caring gene,’” she said. “That has a lot to do with it.”

She has worked as a nurse manager and recently had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with some Nascentia patients.

“It reminded me once again why we do what we do,” Lazarek-LaQuay said. “Providing care to someone who needs help to get through their day is so personally rewarding in and of itself. These HHAs are standing in the gap for so many of these patients.”

She said that many times, the patient care involves dressing and bathing, but not as much about taking medication. However, HHAs work to make sure both happen.

“I wish people realized their role,” Lazarek-LaQuay said. “There’s so much satisfaction. The skill set these aides have is greatly appreciated. It’s so rewarding to help individuals maintain their independence and dignity at home. It’s a wonderful thing to contribute to that. People who haven’t thought about being a home care provider, this is a great opportunity to be part of something that will become a mainstay, much larger than it used to be.”

A starting salary of $31,870 is the average for HHAs in the Syracuse area — quite a bit above minimum wage for a job that requires only in-house, paid classes for training for a few weeks.

“It is a wonderful entry point to see if someone likes health care,” said Karen Anthony, director of clinical operations and administrator of Loretto’s home health agency who oversees the HHA training program. “They would learn a lot of practical information they can apply to their own lives, like bed making, infection control, communication and how to take care of someone. It gives you the opportunity to observe other people in healthcare roles like LPNs and RNs.”

Nearly all of Loretto’s HHA class members pass the organization’s three-week HHA class. Following completion of the class, new employees complete orientation on the job and are assigned a peer mentor. Loretto offers free classes such as the pre-LPN assistant course. Loretto also offers reimbursement for locally-offered classes to become a medical assistant, physical therapy aid, LPN or RN.

While the HHA classes teach skills is essential for the job, Anthony said that the having the “soft skills” of communication, compassion and good attitude “is very important.”

She said that she has asked many aides over the years why home health care work is so fulfilling.

“Their answer is pretty much the same: they get to help people who might otherwise be lonely,” Anthony said. “They can make a difference.”