How would you define home care?
Consider the definition offered by the executive director of the Home Care Association of America, which does an effective job in clarifying exactly what home care encompasses.
“Home care is about quality of life and ensures that chronic conditions are being addressed and gives family caregivers peace of mind that loved ones are safe at home,” said Phil Bongiorno in an interview with The New York Times. “A lot of people don’t know what home care is, but it’s playing an increasingly important role in maintaining the health and safety of seniors across the country.”
In fact, home care has become the gold standard of care for many elderly. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are 12,200 home health care agencies in the U.S. providing services for more than 4,700,000 people. Studies have shown that most people – more than 90 percent – find being cared for in their home by a home health aide far preferable to entering an assisted living facility or nursing home.
In addition to helping people live a better overall quality of life, home care is often far more affordable than institutional care. Continuing care communities that provide “aging in place” – where residents receive greater levels of care as they age and become more dependent – can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. In comparison, the median rate for home care is about $20 an hour.
Similar to these continuing care communities, home care also offers an aging in place component. Those patients who are in need of minimal support – perhaps requiring help with their activities of daily living, or maybe needing companionship during the day when no family members are available – may only require home care for a few hours a week. Over time, this can increase, eventually transitioning to 24/7 care should it become necessary.
Many people are attracted to home care for another reason: it’s personal, one-on-one care. This often results in the forming of close bonds between caregiver and client. In contrast to institutional care, where an aide is often responsible for many patients on a shift basis, home care can result in the caregiver and patient becoming as close as two family members. That’s not surprising as there are many examples where patient and caregiver are together for years.
As an example, take the case of Maria, a home health aide, who began working with her patient, Elaine, in 2016. She went to work shortly after Elaine’s husband, Herb, passed away. At the time, Elaine was still fairly independent and only needed Maria for a few hours a week.
Over the years, however, Elaine suffered several health setbacks. By 2018, she found it difficult to get out of bed and her mobility was limited. Maria became a fixture in Elaine’s house and became very friendly with Elaine’s closest relatives, her sister and niece, who lived across the country, giving them regular updates on Elaine’s health.
“When she had a good day, and was able to walk for several minutes, Maria would let us know,” said her niece, Holly. “And, the times when Elaine was rushed to the hospital, Maria was the first one we heard from.
Although Maria has a family of her own, and so could not sleep over, she worked 8 to 10 hours every day, making way for an overnight home health aide who would replace her.
She was with Elaine until the very end. After Elaine died in 2020, Maria spoke at her funeral. Even now, she visits Elaine’s grave site a couple of times every month and remains in touch with Elaine’s family.
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