One of the fastest-growing healthcare professions in America is home health care (1). There has been an increased demand for the services provided by qualified in-home health aide workers, and this has sparked the interest of job seekers and those looking for a career change. Before someone decides to jump right into the life of a home health aide, it can be helpful to know more about the profession, what it entails, and exactly how to become a home health aide.
What is a Home Health Aide
The first step to becoming a home health aide is to know exactly what a home health aide is. Home health aides work with patients and clients that need assistance with a variety of daily activities due to a number of different reasons. Often times, home care and home health aides work with elderly clients who may need a little help to stay independent within their own home. Though, it is possible that a home health aide could work with a variety of clients with chronic illness, injuries, cognitive impairment, or some other reason to need assistance.
Home health aides will usually work independently but still fall under the supervision of a licensed healthcare worker such as a registered nurse. This allows them to be able to perform minor medical tasks like administering medication, checking vital signs, or helping with dietary needs. While home health aides may do more than just medically related tasks, these medical tasks are central to their job description.
Home Health Aides Versus Personal Care Aides
One of the most common misconceptions about home health aides is that they are the same as personal care aides. On the surface, there are a few similarities between these two professions, but there are some key differences between home health aides and personal care aides. Home health aides can provide several personal care duties to help their clients, but their key function may be to be there as a healthcare provider. This means they can perform the basic medical tasks needed to help with daily activities, as well as help with physical therapy exercises or changing bandages and dressing. Personal care aides are generally limited in the scope of work they do to only personal, non-medical tasks like cleaning or laundry.
What Does a Home Health Aide Do?
Home health aides can perform a wide variety of tasks throughout their day. Exactly what types of tasks would need to be performed would depend heavily on several factors.
- The client being worked with
- The state being worked in
- Home health care agency
- Time of day or shift worked
Home health aides are there to help clients continue to live a happy life in their homes. This is often due to mobility issues or cognitive issues, but clients seeking home health aide services can need assistance for several different reasons and may not need help at all times or every day. Because of this, the daily routine of a home health aide can vary greatly from day-to-day. Shifts can include days, nights, overnights, or even live-in work, depending on the situation and client needs.
Some of the tasks a home health aide may perform while on the job can include:
- Arranging transportation to and from doctor visits
- Checking and recording vital signs for future reference
- Some light housekeeping and personal care tasks
- Preparing meals based on client dietary needs and restrictions
- Assisting with going to the restroom or other overnight tasks
How to Become a Home Health Aide
Becoming a home health aide does not require a lot of schooling or other requirements. The basic educational requirements for home health aides is a high school diploma, making it a great position for people looking to try something new or see if the healthcare industry is a right fit for their lives. The specific requirements for each home health aide position may be different depending on the home health care agency, the region the position is in, or several other factors. There are also certificate programs and extra available training. Taking these extra courses may result in higher pay or more suitable client assignments.
Home Health Aide Education and Training Requirements
Initially, there is no extra education or training needed to begin working as a home health care provider. Applicants will have to have at least a high school diploma and undergo some sort of background checks. There may also be physical requirements to ensure aides can meet the demands of the job day in and day out. Once hired, most home health aides receive quite a bit of on-the-job training from a registered nurse or another skilled medical professional.
Some certifications can be useful to have and may help prospective applicants stand out from the growing crowd. The first is becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA). CNAs are trained to help patients with their daily medical needs and activities and require certification to perform. The duties closely resemble those of a home health aide, but with a much closer focus to the medical side of the care. Certification training for a CNA that can be directly used in-home health aide work will include several medical issues and training points such as taking blood, giving injections, and how to properly care for and handle patients with limited mobility.
It may also be useful for prospective home health aides to be licensed practical nurses (LPN) or licensed vocational nurses (LVN). This is the same position that uses a different title in different parts of the country. In California and Texas, this position uses the LVN title, while the rest of the country refers to this position as an LPN (2). Other than this, they are the same position with the same training, duties, and responsibilities. The training required for LPN certification revolves heavily around general medical knowledge and competency. Areas of study include anatomy, nutrition, and therapeutic nursing care.
Home Health Aide Certification and Licensure
While there are no specific licenses or certifications that are required to become a home health aide, there are several other certifications and training that can be taken. Those home health aides that work with Medicaid or Medicare clients must meet certain standards. Training standards include 75 hours of training, 16 hours of supervised practical work, and passing a competency evaluation or state certification program. Some states require additional training (3).
Home health aides can register with the National Association of Home Care and Hospice (NAHC). The NAHC is a nonprofit organization whose aim is to provide support and resources to the thousands of healthcare and hospice workers in the country (4). Registration is not generally required for employment with most home health care agencies and providers, but it can be helpful in learning more about the job and how to properly handle situations you may find often on the job.
How to Receive Additional Home Health Care Aide Certifications
How one would go about receiving the extra training and certifications mentioned would depend on where they live and which certifications they are looking into. Basic home health aide training is done on the job and requires no additional schooling or certification for most situations and positions.
If you are working within the Medicaid and Medicare systems, you will be required to take additional training and education. These courses can be taken through community colleges and vocational schools around the country. The length of time for this training and the number of courses required can vary slightly from state to state, but they are not generally very long or time-intensive.
To become a CNA or LPN, you will need to take extra schooling outside of on-the-job training and learning. CNA certification can take up to 12 weeks and include a number of clinical hours. Courses are available at many nursing schools, vocational schools, and community colleges. LPN education more medically oriented, so schooling can take around a full year to complete with many out-of-class and clinical hours added in. These programs are usually found at community colleges and vocational schools around the country.
How Much Does a Home Health Aide Make?
The position of a home health care aide is expected to continue to grow at a rapid pace (5). This is drawing many job seekers into this profession all across the country. The wages and pay scale for home health aides will vary greatly from state to state and region to region. There are many factors that can determine the pay rate of home health aides:
- Extra training, education, or certifications
- Requirements for Medicaid and Medicare
- Availability of home health aides in an area
- The specific needs or requirements of the agency
The average pay for home health aides in 2018 was $24,200 (6). This means that across the country, half of those employed as home health aides made more than that amount, while the other half made less than that amount. Again, this will vary depending on location and other factors. For example, the average annual wage for home health aides working in Minnesota can be around $28,000, while in Wisconsin, the same position can bring in nearly $3,000 less per year (7).
How to Become a Home Health Aide for a Relative
Being the one responsible for caring for a relative that has mobility issues or is homebound can be difficult, time-consuming, and costly to the caregiver. Luckily, there may a way to become a paid caregiver for a family member or close friend that needs these services. Unfortunately, this will not be possible in all locations and all scenarios, though.
The first thing to look at when attempting to receive payment for caring for a family member is whether they are eligible for Medicaid. In all states, the Medicaid program offers waivers for self-directed long-term care and support. This gives patients the power to hire and fire their own caregivers, and in some states, this can even be a family member or ex-spouse (8). The program name may not be the same in every state, and the exact details of the programs will vary in each area. To enroll in a self-directed care plan, speak with a Medicaid representative or visit your state’s health care marketplace. It is common for applicants to be required to provide a detailed written service plan that includes the daily assistance required by the family member.
If your family member is a veteran, several states have a special program aimed at helping to keep our vets out of nursing homes and hospitals. The Veteran Directed Home & Community Based Care program is available to veterans who are enrolled in the Veterans Health Administration standard medical benefits package. If accepted, the veteran could receive a monthly budget to cover useful items and services for their lives, which can include caregivers. The caregivers are chosen by the veteran and can be a family member, spouse, friend, or anyone else trusted by the veteran and physically and mentally able to perform the job.
Aid and Attendance (A&A) benefits may be available to help you care for a family member. These benefits are only available to veterans who receive a VA pension and have met other requirements. The benefits work with the VA pension to provide extra funds for a caregiver.
Becoming a home health aide is not a difficult task and has a lot of room to grow. There are always extra training and certification that can be done to increase your knowledge or pay level. This can be a starting point to a long life in the healthcare industry in other ways.