One of the fastest-growing healthcare occupations in the United States is that of the home health aide: a career that empowers people who are elderly or living with physical or mental disabilities to live safely in their homes.
Home health aides help people with essential tasks such as bathing and dressing, light housekeeping and meal preparation, basic healthcare, providing transportation to and from medical appointments, and supporting social interaction. For people who want a rewarding career in healthcare but don’t yet have the time or money for a nursing education, becoming a home health aide may be an excellent choice.
So what does it take to become a home health aide? While most home health aide positions require a high school diploma or GED, some positions do not have a minimum educational requirement. Training to become a home health aide can be completed on the job or learned through a training program and requirements vary for each state.
According to the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI), requirements for home health aides who are employed by agencies that receive federal funding from Medicare or Medicaid are required to have a minimum of 75 hours of training, at least 16 hours of supervised practical or clinical training, and demonstrate 12 hours of continuing education each year (PHI 2019).
Some states including the District of Columbia require a minimum of 120 hours which the National Academy of Medicine (NAC) supports as the new standard for home health aides (NAC 2008). Most home health aide positions require cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification which can be completed through the American Red Cross.
Although certification is not always required for employment, having certification through the National Association of Home Care and Hospice (NACH) can increase employability and lead to higher salaries. The NACH provides online learning opportunities and accreditation for home health aide programs through their online learning portal Home Care University. Skills taught in home health aide programs include basic medical diagnostics such as taking temperature and blood pressure, how to transfer patients from beds and chairs, and specialized certifications in cardiac and geriatric care are available, too. Some states require that home health aides hold certification as certified nursing assistants (CNAs).
Read on to learn more about how to build home health aide skills.
Beyond the gratification earned from helping patients live empowered lives, there has never been a better time to enter the profession of home health care. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019) reports that healthcare occupations are growing at an unprecedented rate of 14 percent, a rate which is much faster than the average for all occupations and estimates that 1.9 million new healthcare professionals will be needed between 2018 and 2028 (BLS 2019).
Home health aides are one of the fastest-growing healthcare careers in the country with an expected 36 percent increase in opportunities nationally—a rate which is much faster than the national average and will add an incredible 1,185,800 new jobs between 2018 and 2028 (BLS 2019). The median annual salary for home health aides is $24,060 per year (BLS 2019).
So what is driving the need for an increased number of home health aides? The answer is the large aging demographic in the United States. A study published in the Health Services Research Journal, “The 2030 Problem: Caring for Aging Baby Boomers,” calls for increased community care services to make healthcare more affordable, as well as the development of payment and insurance systems to increase access to long-term care services.
What’s more, is federal support for home health has improved and in 2015, for the first time, home care spending surpassed nursing home care spending (CNBC 2018). With nearly 10,000 seniors reaching the age of 65 every day and wanting to remain in their homes as they age, the demand for home health aides is projected to remain on the rise in the next ten to 20 years (CNBC 2018).
The services provided by home health aides are useful for three populations: patients needing home care, their families, and the healthcare profession. By providing care to patients who need help in their living environments, home health aides allow people to live independently in the comfort of their own homes. Home health aides help the families and friends of patients by easing the number of caregiving responsibilities.
Furthermore, healthcare provided by skilled home health aides has been statistically proven to reduce the number of hospitalizations and the amount of medical treatment, which means lower healthcare costs for all (HealthAffairs.org 2019).
The fourth benefit to joining this burgeoning field is career longevity. In other words, a career in home health care can last a lifetime or empower a professional to pivot into other types of healthcare careers such as nursing assistant, occupational therapist, or registered nurse.
To provide real-world insight into the home caregiving career, here are three home health aide experts who share their experiences working in the home health aide industry.
Below is a list of five home health aide programs offering certificates and similar professional training for home healthcare providers.
Home Care University (HCU) is an affiliate of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice (NACH). Offering an online, e-learning portal and credentialing standard for home care and hospice professionals, HCU offers a wide range of professional development opportunities for home health aides including in-person professional conferences, interactive web and teleconference events, and continuing education credits.
Specialized courses are available to learn more about providing hospice care, pediatric care, and care for non-communicative patients. HCU offers discounted learning opportunities and reduced conference fees for members of NACH.
Located in Pratt, Kansas, Pratt CC offers a fully online course to train home health aides to provide safe, effective, and supportive personal care assistance to individuals in their homes. This course meets the guidelines set forth for home healthcare workers by the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Service.
Candidates must submit an application, a current state nurse aide certification license, a copy of their social security card, and documentation of a negative tuberculosis test completed within the last six months.
Based in Friday Harbor, Washington, Cornerstone Healthcare Training offers hybrid, self-paced courses for home care aide students. While most of the courses are available online, the required skills labs for home care aide students are offered in cities throughout Washington state: Spokane, Pullman, Kennewick, Lacey, Lynwood, and Bellingham.
Cornerstone is one of the largest regional trainers of home care agency staff and senior housing providers and is a member of the Adult Family Home Council of Washington and the Adult Family Home Nurse’s Association. Offering certifications for home health aides and specialized continuing education courses, students can expect to learn home health topics such as nutrition, the process of elimination, medications, mobility and skincare, falls and prevention, chronic pain, and communication.
Located in Middletown, Connecticut, Middlesex Community College offers a hybrid program to become a certified nurse aide (CNA). CNA certificate-holders can work in home health as well as nursing care work environments. Online courses are organized in modules and combined with in-person clinical learning to provide career training options for students who want to take advantage of the flexibility offered by distance learning.
Students applying for this program must submit proof of a high school diploma or GED and a criminal background check in addition to an up-to-date immunization form. CNAs can pivot into future careers in nursing and other related healthcare professions.
The American Red Cross has a 100-year history of preparing professionals for work in nursing careers and offers in-person certified nursing assistant (CNA) preparation courses. These courses emphasize hands-on skills practice designed to prepare nursing paraprofessionals for clinical rotations prior to taking their state licensing exams.
Designed with input from educators, caregivers, and long-term industry representatives, this nationally-developed curriculum exceeds most state standards for CNA programs. Courses are taught by experienced and licensed nurse assistant training instructors. Enrollment requirements vary by state.
Before committing to a specific career, it can be useful to explore training options before investing significant time and money into professional training. Here are some free and low-cost resources to build skills and explore career possibilities prior to taking steps to become a home health aide.
Coursera is a massive open online course (MOOC) that offers free and low-cost courses from prestigious universities around the globe. The foundations for assisting in home care is offered completely online by the Open State University of New York (SUNY) for free. This self-study course is designed for people interested in exploring careers as home health or personal care aides. The course takes approximately 23 hours to complete, and it is recommended that students spend three to six hours per week studying over a 13-week time period. Assignment submission deadlines are flexible.
For those who live in states where a home health aide exam is required, the CNA practice test channel on YouTube is available as a self-study video series. The videos are organized into playlists, and students preparing for home health aide or CNA examinations can study these videos at their own pace as they prepare for their exams.
EdX is a MOOC platform that offers free and low-cost courses taught by leading educational and professional institutions. The CARE unit taught by the Karolinska Institutet is an introductory course for supporting the elderly with dignity.
The program lasts five weeks and requires one to three hours per week of studying. This course is free and a certificate of verification is available for a fee. Students learn about the social and emotional needs of older people, health and safety for older people and caregivers, and anatomy as it relates to aging.
HomeHealth101.com is a blog filled with professional content for home health aides and related professions. With content authored by Kathy Quan, RN, BSN, PHN, the site provides documentation basics for skilled home healthcare. These online courses teach home health aide professionals skills in how to document the needs of home care patients.
In her book, Exploring the Home Health Care Experience, Ms. Quan speaks to the advantages of one-on-one patient care and encourages home health aides to explore the benefits of working autonomously in the field of home health.