They take care of others, but many U.S. home health care workers say they're not in good shape themselves, a new study finds.
Researchers analyzed self-reported data collected from nearly 3,000 home health care workers in 38 states between 2014 and 2018 and found that more than a quarter rated their general health as fair or poor, 1 in 5 reported poor mental health, and 14% reported poor physical health.
Low household income, inability to afford medical care and a history of depression were associated with poorer health among home health care workers, according to the study published Dec. 8 in the American Journal of Public Health.
Home health care workers had much higher rates of conditions such as arthritis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and depression than health care aides and health care support workers who do not work in patients' homes but have similar job responsibilities and also have low wages.
“We've seen, especially during the COVID pandemic, that this workforce provides essential, day-to-day care to older adults to keep them healthy at home,” said study author Dr. Madeline Sterling, an assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City.
“But not a lot of research has investigated their own health. This data provided an opportunity to do that at a national level," Sterling said in a Weill Cornell news release.
Home health care workers are mostly women and minorities and typically employed by home care agencies. They provide care to older adults and those with disabilities and chronic conditions.
The findings are “a call to action” to improve the health of home health care workers, Sterling said. That could include measures such as higher wages, adequate health insurance and better health screening and treatment.
“Hopefully, this study will spur public health experts and policymakers to put such programs in place,” she said. “Right now, improving the health of these workers is not part of the conversation, and it should be.”
There are more than 2 million home health care workers in the United States and the number is expected to increase 38% in the next three years.
The Caregiver Space offers health and safety tips for home health care workers.
SOURCE: Weill Cornell Medicine, news release, Dec. 8, 2021