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5 components of an effective program
by Jonas Fortenberry

In today’s rapidly evolving health care landscape, in-home care stands out as one of the fastest-growing sectors in the U.S. A staggering 90% of the 65+ demographic want to age at home, preferring the comfort and familiarity of their own environment.

However, as the demand for home health care surges, so does the need for dedicated nurses willing to step out of the traditional hospital setting and into the homes of patients. This shift brings with it a unique set of challenges.

The Risks & Challenges of Providing Home Health Care

Health care workers often enter patients’ homes without knowing the potential risks: dealing with mental health issues, family tensions and possible assaults. These workers face violence five times more frequently than other professionals and are assaulted more often than police.

About 21% of home health care workers also report poor mental health, and they tend to have worse general, physical and mental health compared with low-wage workers in other industries. This toll contributes significantly to burnout, reducing the quality of care and increasing staff turnover.

The Impact on Home Health Agencies

Ensuring the safety of caregivers is not just a matter of individual well-being; it’s closely tied to broader organizational health. When caregivers face risks in their work environment, it not only impacts their personal safety, but also poses significant financial and reputational risks to the business they work for.

One of the most direct results of inadequate safety measures is a high turnover rate, which is rising for most health care agencies. In 2022, the turnover rate for home health care workers was a staggering 77%, compared to 47% across all industries.

High turnover is not only disruptive but comes with a hefty price tag—a single nurse turnover can cost a company in excess of $100,000. Moreover, frequent staff changes can disrupt the continuity of care, potentially affecting patient satisfaction and the organization’s reputation in the community. In essence, investing in caregiver safety is a strategic move that safeguards not only the employees but also the financial stability and public image of the organization.

Creating an Effective Safety Program

A strong safety program is a key step toward ensuring the safety of home health care workers and mitigating risk within an organization.

“We’ve prioritized implementing safety measures because it fosters a culture of care, responsibility, and professionalism within the organization,” said Tim Dellomo, team lead for workplace security at HealthFirst. “It boosts morale and retention and gives the employee the confidence to know they are not alone in the field.”

Here are five components that you’ll need to make sure you have:

1. A Safety Committee

A safety committee should be established within any organization dedicated to risk management, with the goal of regularly discussing and addressing safety issues while creating a culture of safety.

Approximately 41% of nursing staff don’t report workplace violence, often because they feel their efforts would be futile. A dedicated safety committee that regularly addresses issues can change this perception and foster a culture of zero tolerance for violence and harassment. In addition, clear response policies like open-door and zero-tolerance ensure incidents are reported and taken seriously.

2. Safety Training

Giving caregivers the tools they need to keep themselves safe is a top priority when it comes to safety. All safety programs should include de-escalation and self-protection training, equipping workers with skills to handle various situations.

De-escalation training teaches caregivers how to spot danger signs early and safely diffuse tense situations, and self-protection training gives them the skills to protect themselves and their clients in case a situation escalates.

3. Wearable Safety Devices

Wearable safety devices are emerging as essential tools for frontline workers, particularly for those in home health care roles. These devices are practical, effective solutions that seamlessly integrate into the daily routines of nurses and caregivers, keeping them safe while offering peace of mind.

“Wearable safety devices are a game-changer when it comes to managing risk,” said AJ Leahy, CEO of POM Safe. “Not only do they keep workers safe and give them peace of mind, but they also help discourage the kind of workplace assaults that can lead to costly legal and reputation trouble for organizations.”

Key features of these devices include emergency response capabilities as well as preventative safety measures. This advancement in health care technology not only benefits the caregivers, but also supports the broader objectives of health care organizations in maintaining high standards of care and safety.

4. Employee Assistance Programs

Workplace violence isn’t just a physical threat; it takes a significant toll on mental health as well. Establishing an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can offer much-needed mental health support by providing counseling services to help staff cope with the emotional challenges of their roles.

EAPs are becoming a cornerstone of support in the health care sector, particularly for those in high-stress roles like health care. EAPs are structured to provide confidential and professional assistance to employees dealing with personal or work-related issues and typically include services like counseling, mental health support and guidance on work-life balance.

Another significant aspect of EAPs is their role in crisis intervention. Health care workers can find themselves in unpredictable and high-stress situations, and EAPs can offer immediate support and guidance during these times.

5. Adequate Staffing

If employees are overburdened as a result of understaffing, they can experience fatigue, decreased alertness and a higher risk of making errors. By ensuring that there are enough caregivers to handle the workload, organizations can significantly reduce these risks. This balance is crucial in high-stress environments where the safety of caregivers and patients are at stake.

Not only does adequate staffing reduce the physical and emotional strain on each worker, but it also leads to better patient monitoring and quicker response to emergencies. It also reduces the likelihood of incidents that could lead to legal and financial repercussions. In short, health care organizations that prioritize adequate staffing are better positioned to meet the challenges of the health care sector while ensuring the safety of their employees.

In an industry where the stakes are high and the environments are unpredictable, the safety of home health care workers is not just a priority—it’s a necessity.

By creating a safe, supportive work environment for caregivers, health care agencies can enhance the well-being of their workers, improve their quality of care and mitigate risk for their organization.

Jonas Fortenberry is vice president of business development for POM Safe, a tech company that produces cutting-edge safety devices for healthcare workers. Jonas has worked in the post-acute and health care industry for over 12 years and specializes in the areas of health care technology and healthcare software as a service solutions. Contact him at jonas@pomsafe.com. Visit pomsafe.com.