Industry Voices—Home care workers are key for aging loved ones. Let's treat them that way

Recently, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a rule that, for the first time, allows Medicare Advantage plans to offer home care as a supplemental benefit.

Seth Sternberg, CEO of Honor

This long-awaited decision recognizes the value that professional caregivers have in keeping older adults healthy and will enable many more Americans to access services that can help them stay healthy at home.

But given that our 65-and-older population will double to 80 million in the next 30 years, this rule has to be the beginning of larger structural changes to serve this generation.

Today, 2 million home care professionals help older adults with life’s everyday tasks: everything from getting dressed to getting around. They allow people to continue living safely at home—where nearly 90% of adults 65 and older prefer to age.

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Home care is more cost-effective than other options, and it has become a regular requirement for patients leaving the hospital after a bad fall, major surgery, a stroke, heart attack, or other serious medical episode. For still others, the need for home care comes on gradually as an illness or condition progresses. In either situation, this care can allow a person to continue living safely at home.

While most families truly value their loved one’s care professional, the larger system grossly undervalues these workers, even labeling them “unskilled” rather than “skilled” labor. They often make low wages, have irregular and inconsistent work hours, and aren’t given the detailed information on clients they need to succeed. This must change.

To empower the home care workforce to meet future demands, we must give care professionals the same opportunities that benefit nurses and doctors, including formalized training and career development opportunities. They also deserve fair wages, health benefits, workers comp, and safe working conditions that recognize the importance of the work they do every day. These changes allow care professionals to deliver better care.

But to do so at scale, this workforce needs access to modern technology. The entire healthcare sector has lagged behind on tech, but it’s especially prevalent within home care, which, despite being a $30 billion industry, has largely gone unchanged for the past 30 years.

RELATED: New technologies help seniors age in place and not feel alone

Care professionals should, with the right permissions and security in place, have access to the client’s care plan before, during, and after a care visit, so that they can prepare and deliver the most personalized care possible. Having a technology platform in place so that professional caregivers can communicate with each other and the families they are caring for allows for better coordination and better health outcomes.

When we provide better tools for the people delivering care, that care improves. Trained caregivers can act as the eyes and ears for the family and medical care team. By spotting potential risks and sharing crucial wellness information, care professionals can help head off problems before they happen—or worsen. They can reduce the risk of unnecessary hospital readmissions, which is better for the individual and less costly for society.

CMS has taken a major step to help our older adults age well at home. We must not stop there.

If we can give our workforce better training, coordination, and the best technology available today, we just may address one of the biggest challenges facing the future of U.S. healthcare: caring for our parents and grandparents.

Seth Sternberg is the co-founder and CEO of Honor, a nonmedical home care company operating in California, Texas, and New Mexico.