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Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 12:12:29 PM CST

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Jayna Omaye/MEDILL

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The BLS projects that the health care industry will continue to grow.

Jobs abound for home health care workers, but training is key

by Jayna Omaye
Jul 29, 2013

An aging population and a growing desire to remain at home have led to greater demand for home health aides and personal care aides.

However, local experts say quality training is key to success in a field that’s expected to grow by nearly 70 percent from 2010 to 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Home health is a pretty independent practice … because they’re out there on their own,” said Lorrie Ehrke, director of Integrated Home Healthcare Services, an organization that provides home health aide services to Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties. “It’s not like they’re at a hospital or nursing home where there’s multiple people who can help them. They have to be able to respond to situations, and they need the training for that.”

In June, the health care industry gained nearly 20,000 jobs from May, even as the overall unemployment rate remained unchanged.

“I think nationally, especially with the economy, one of the industries that has so far survived has been the health care industry,” Ehrke said. “I don’t see that diminishing. I only see that increasing.”

Home health aides provide personal care assistance, such as housekeeping, meal preparing and dressing, as well as some medical and nursing services including medication reminders.

Personal care aides, called home services workers in Illinois, help with daily living services such as cleaning and laundry, but do not provide medical assistance.

Home health aides are required to have certified nursing assistant training, according to the Illinois Dept. of Public Health, while home services workers complete a minimum of eight hours of training before working with clients. Both need to be registered with the state.

However, Sandra Crasko, vice president of community services at Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services, which employs home services workers, said she thinks there should be more than eight hours of training required.

“That personally scares me,” said Crasko, who requires her home services workers to train at least 12 hours before working with clients. “I think there ought to be a standardization that should be required. My background is in regulation … so I think that’s why I do more with our staff. I think everybody should.”

Out of the nearly 20 applications Crasko receives each month, she said she hires either none or only one because many do not meet the state requirements.

Mary Anne Nano, 24, a certified nursing assistant who is attending Oakton Community College in Skokie to become a registered nurse, said she entered the health care field on the practical advice of her father.

“He’s like, ‘that’s going to give you a stable job, good pay and a stable future,’” said Nano, who has worked for two years at the Ivy Apartments, a supportive living community in Lincoln Park. “A lot of people need medical assistance. A huge population is getting older now, so they need more health care.”

Pam Patterson, who oversees state and federal regulations for home services at Cantata, an Illinois organization that employs nearly 100 to 150 home health aides and home services workers, said she receives nearly 30 applications each month.

“Caregiving is more popular amongst entry-level employees, but also amongst what I call the re-entry employees … who may have been able to retire early,” said Patterson, who started at Cantata as a part-time relief nurse. “They’ve made the decision, and they’re agile and healthy enough to kind of give back to their community. It gives them a feeling of providing a service to elders, so it’s kind of a two-way street.”

Along with competent home health care, Crasko said she also looks for workers who can provide companionship.

“I think all the studies show more people want to stay at home,” Crasko said. “Even if the companionship is a paying visitor, that still has such value in the psycho-social being of our client. Who amongst us doesn’t need human contact?”