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Silver Linings: NH college class could become national model to attract home care workers

By ROBERTA BAKER
New Hampshire Union Leader

June 17. 2018 9:36PM
Richard Jutras comes back from a walk Thursday near his home in Somersworth with help from Cherie Stevenson, an LNA home caregiver with Senior Helpers of the Greater Seacoast. His wife, Cynthia, walks their dog Beauty. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)



PORTSMOUTH — A community college training and apprenticeship program for home health aides that is free to students is poised to become a model for attracting new workers to home care,

The Registered Apprenticeship Program for Home Health Aides at Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth, sponsored by Senior Helpers of the Greater Seacoast in Stratham and the U.S. Department of Labor, employs the students as they learn in the classroom and on the job, says Beth Doiron, director of College Access and Department of Education Programs and Initiatives for the Community College System of New Hampshire.

The pilot program may be offered at other community colleges within the next year, she says; the apprenticeship course at Great Bay has will be offered again in September.

The program came about through the efforts of Dwight Davis, co-owner of Senior Helpers of the Greater Seacoast, who approached the college to design a class and apprenticeship program that would help him recruit and retain new workers.

It’s one solution of many needed to solve the state’s home caregiving crisis, and it’s available to New Hampshire home care agencies that are willing to co-sponsor a similar program to attract and train employees, Doiron says.

After caring for their elderly parents, Dwight Davis and his wife, Gayle, left other careers to start their Stratham agency, which opened in 2014. It serves Strafford, Rockingham, Hillsborough, and Merrimack counties. “We saw a void and we wanted to fill it,” says Davis.

The agency currently employs 58 caregivers, including Great Bay Community College nursing students, students at UNH in Durham, stay-at-home moms working night shifts, seniors who have been caregivers for their spouses, and four retired nurses who spend six months in Florida and six months in New Hampshire.

Shortly after opening the Davises encountered a problem confronting home care providers across the state: the ongoing and pervasive shortage of caregivers, which is poised to become more critical as New Hampshire’s baby boom generation ages.

Cherie Stevenson, an LNA home caregiver with Senior Helpers of the Greater Seacoast, gets ready to test Richard Jutras' blood pressure in his home in Somersworth on Thursday. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

The agency currently has six to eight families waiting for services. Requests are triaged and filled according to severity and immediacy of need, Dwight Davis says, and people not in immediate need of home care may wait four to six weeks to begin receiving regular visits from home health aides.

“I want to fill all these requests,” he says. “We get two or three calls a day, and one serious inquiry almost every day from someone who says, “I really need your help.”

Because demand exceeds supply of workers, agencies wind up “cannibalizing each other’s staff,” he says. “You find people moving for a 50-cent or 25-cent-an-hour pay raise. It’s become very important to take care of their needs and work conditions. It’s not that it’s so difficult to attract people to this career. There’s a legitimate shortage. We offer cash incentives to our employees who introduce us to other caregivers who will join us.”

Policy makers, non-profits, university researchers, agency owners, and state health and human services officials are brainstorming ways to attract new workers. Strategies include offering cash incentives to current employees who bring in new talent, offering employee-sponsored income support funds to caregivers who lose shifts and steady employment, and providing grant funds for seniors and families to hire trusted friends and neighbors until paid home health aides become available. 

There’s not one answer to the problem, says Douglas McNutt, Associate Director-Advocacy at AARP New Hampshire, who, along with other experts around the country, believes the answer lies in a multi-faceted approach.

Richard Jutras goes for a walk with help from Cherie Stevenson, an LNA home caregiver with Senior Helpers of the Greater Seacoast, as his wife, Cynthia, walks their dog Beauty near their Somersworth home Thursday. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

In the meantime, Dwight Davis continues to attend Seacoast job fairs, hoping to recruit staff. He says it’s important to carefully screen candidates.

“Seniors cant be ‘babysitted,’ he says. “They can’t just watch soap operas on TV. You have to do things to improve their quality of life. The most important thing we look for is, Do you have a nurturing spirit? Do you have empathy? We can teach you how to transfer a patient from bed to chair, we can give you information on all the forms of dementia. This is hard work because of the emotional piece. It’s not just washing dishes. It’s supporting another person emotionally.”

Davis says the apprenticeship program offers potential caregivers training at no cost and paid on-the-job experience as they shadow and assist working caregivers, and receive support from mentors. The course currently has three students who attend classes on topics such as infection control, body mechanics, and nutritional support twice a week for 12 weeks, while working in the field. 

Silver Linings is a continuing Union Leader/Sunday News report focusing on the issues of New Hampshire’s aging population and seeking out solutions. Union Leader reporter Roberta Baker would like to hear from readers about issues related to aging. She can be reached at rbaker@unionleader.com or (603) 206-1514. See more at www.unionleader.com/aging. This series is funded through a grant from the Endowment for Health.


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