by Carrie Baatz
Make Real Connections: Teaching Home Health Caregivers
“If someone hurts themselves, I’ll offer to carry them on my back. I’ve always been that friend,” says Kathy McDevitt, the Home Health Orientation and Training Specialist at The Independence Center. Her desire to work in the Home Health field stems from her passion for helping people.
In 2009, Kathy became a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant), and has been helping people with disabilities ever since. Before coming to The Independence Center, Kathy worked at a nursing home. She described the nursing home as a grim environment where the medical staff were overwhelmed and understaffed. As a result, clients were mistreated. “There were 2 CNAs, each caring for 28 patients, and with that load it was impossible to give good care to each client individually. I wanted to spend time with each client, brushing their hair, washing their face and their hands, but I was always told I was taking too long. I saw that the management had no compassion for their clients. I realized that I was on my own there.”
The Independence Center is committed to providing care and individual attention to people with disabilities, so that they can stay in their homes instead of going to nursing homes. For people who currently live in nursing homes and want to find housing in the community, we offer Community Transition Services. Our In-Home Healthcare Division employs over 200 caregivers who offer client-directed care for people with disabilities in their homes.
Who is a Caregiver?
Now, Kathy provides training and orientation for all incoming caregivers at The Independence Center. Home Health caregivers play a crucial role for people with disabilities. They give their clients the support and care that they need to live in their homes. Some caregivers are friends and family members who take care of their loved ones. Others have had formal training as CNAs, PCAs (Personal Care Attendants), or PCWs (Personal Care Workers). Some caregivers who come to Kathy’s orientation are brand-new to the Home Health field, while others have been practicing for many years.
Every client’s disability is different, and they need varying levels of care. If a client has limited motion, caregivers will help them lift, turn, re-position and transfer. Many caregivers provide personal services, such as bathing, dressing, grooming, and preparing and serving meals. Caregivers also help patients care for themselves by teaching special hygiene techniques and equipment.
Caregivers are going into people’s homes and working in people’s personal spaces. They need to be approachable, good problem-solvers, and smart about safety. They also need to be motivators. When caregivers work with clients who have lost their ability to walk or drive, Kathy encourages caregivers to say, “You are still who you are, you just have different abilities. How can we help each other?”
Kathy stressed that caregivers need to have a lot of compassion and empathy. “You can’t feel sorry for clients. We have clients who need high levels of care, and you’re not helping them when you feel sorry for them.”
Kathy shared a story about a 23-year-old client who was in a car accident and paralyzed from the neck down. “He had a wheel chair with the blow stick, and couldn’t reach for a cup of water. He could not move his arms and legs, and he was still going out, jumping bicycle ramps in his wheelchair. He was so full of life.”
What Caregivers Learn
In Kathy’s orientation, caregivers learn the skills and knowledge that they need to effectively care for their clients. Her style of teaching is hands-on; it’s important to her that students have plenty of practice giving care that they will be giving to clients.
A unique part of Kathy’s class is that every student has the opportunity to practice using the Hoyer lift, a piece of medical equipment used to lift clients who have limited mobility.
“I always use the heaviest student to show students that they can lift heavy people. In one class, every person lifted a student who was 6”2 and 170 pounds. Some of the smaller women didn’t think they could do it, and they found out that they could.”
Kathy spends a lot of time practicing safe transfers with her students, because safe transfers protect caregiver’s backs and ensure that clients are safe during a transfer, no matter what their level of mobility is. “It’s all about body mechanics – not twisting, but turning. Some of my students who have been caregivers before were killing their backs, and now they know how to do transfers that don’t hurt their backs.”
Caregiving is a balance of providing care for clients and supporting clients’ abilities to care for themselves. Our goal at The Independence Center is to help people with disabilities to live as independently as possible. Kathy coaches caregivers to allow their clients to do as much care for themselves as possible. For example, she tells them, “If your client is paralyzed from the waist down, and if they have strength in their arms, let them wash the front of their arms.”
Challenges Caregivers Face
Being a caregiver is rewarding, and it can also be draining. Long hours of care can take a lot out of a person. “We’re so busy taking care of others that we forget to take care of ourselves. I think that is pretty common in this field.”
For family and friend caregivers, the story behind caregiving is often one of big changes in their family roles and dynamics. A parent, spouse, child or sibling has acquired a disability through an accident, illness or genetic condition. When this happens, the family has to adjust and adapt. The person with a disability often goes through a difficult process of grief about their losses, and they may experience guilt that they need more care. Like their clients, caregivers also can have a difficult emotional process, and they may experience resentment about the disruptions and changes in lifestyle that they have to work through.
As much as we care for others, we also need to care for ourselves. During orientation, Kathy encourages her students to reach out for support. The Independence Center offers support groups for caregivers. (For more information, call us at 719-471-8181.) By the end of orientation, Kathy notices that her students have shared phone numbers and made plans to stay connected.
The result of practicing skills and getting to know each other? Caregivers leave Kathy’s orientation feeling connected to a support system, and more confident that they can take good care of their clients. “When new students come into my class, they are scared. They leave feeling safe.”
Are you interested in becoming a CNA? Check out the CNA School at The Independence Center.