According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, home health care employment will skyrocket through 2026, with hundreds of thousands of new jobs being added. The primary reason for this explosive growth: an aging population.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of people in the United States over the age of 65 will nearly double from 2012 to 2050. While a big portion of this aging population will reside in senior care facilities, many will elect to live out the remainder of their lives in the comfort of their homes, thus needing critical services, such as home health care.
The high demand for home health care services means more caregivers are being sent into strangers’ homes, leaving them vulnerable and, all too often, unprotected. Although sometimes the patients themselves pose a risk, the dangers for nurses come in many forms: dangerous neighborhoods, midnight calls for urgent care, and high-strung friends and family of the ailing patient. The dangers facing home health care workers are numerous, and they stem from the same source—nurses often work alone.
For homecare nurses venturing into unfamiliar homes on a daily basis, these risks are all too real. According to an International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety (IAHSS) survey, 61 percent of homecare nurses have experienced some form of workplace violence. This is one of the major catalysts of the industry’s mounting crisis. While the need for homecare workers is growing rapidly, the supply of caregivers is dwindling.
The shrinking supply of nurses willing to venture into strangers’ homes is leaving health care organizations looking for a way to ensure the safety of their home health care workers and hoping to improve recruitment and retention in the process.
CentraCare Health, a nonprofit integrated health care system and provider of follow-up homecare in Central Minnesota, recognized this problem early on. Their nurses were vulnerable to the same dangers as other home health care workers working in private homes, unfamiliar neighborhoods and 24/7 care. Reputation is important too: CentraCare’s St. Cloud Hospital has been designated as a Magnet organization four times by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, a prestigious status recognizing them for their excellence in nursing services. They are one of less than 50 hospitals worldwide to receive the designation four times.
To support their homecare nurses’ safety, CentraCare implemented a lone worker monitoring system. To use the system, nurses download an app on their phone and start a timed monitoring session when they go to visit a patient. To call for help during a potentially dangerous situation, the home health care worker can simply press the panic button in the app or allow the timed session to expire, even if the phone is locked. This sounds an alarm to startle an aggressor and also immediately prompts a remote monitoring team to call and dispatch local authorities to the scene.
Nurses reported feeling much safer with this direct connection to law enforcement. But this peace of mind also had a trickle-down effect on retention and recruiting. The system gives nurses a reason to choose the company in a highly competitive hiring market; it is also an incentive to stay.
Lone Worker Monitoring Considerations
If your organization is experiencing similar challenges, it’s important to know what to look for in a lone worker monitoring solution. The best systems have several key components:
An Audible Alarm
The immediate sounding of an alarm can startle an attacker and scare away anyone that could become a threat. Homecare nurses are vulnerable because they are alone; a verbal alert announcing that authorities are on the way quickly changes that perception. Make sure your workers can trigger an audible alarm easily, without having to press any buttons or unlock a phone. These steps take unnecessary time and, in an emergency, they can be the difference between getting help quickly or not.
When nurses find themselves in danger and trigger their personal alarm, there is no telling what situation they are in. They could be under attack, on the run or being pressured to stay silent. In such cases, dialing 911 is not an easy option. Even if they can call the police, they are unlikely to be composed enough to quickly and effectively relay relevant information to the operator. For this reason, it is crucial that your nurses are being monitored 24/7. When your nurses signal that they are in danger, they do not have to worry about contacting the authorities—a monitoring professional is doing so already.
Rapid and Informed Connection to Law Enforcement
The faster law enforcement can be notified, the more likely they are to be able to respond in an effective and timely manner. According to American Police Beat, the national average response time to a 911 call is 10 minutes—but if a nurse is in immediate danger, that is often not fast enough.
Having a trained monitoring center engage the 911 operator, however, in place of a panicking nurse, can cut down on that time significantly.
A trained monitoring specialist is removed from the situation and knows exactly what information the 911 operator will need. Many modern systems allow customers to enter pertinent information before an emergency occurs—such as their name, the make and model of their car, and their physical appearance—so the monitoring specialist can immediately give law enforcement all the information they need to help.
The most sophisticated technology even tracks the nurse’s precise GPS location, allowing the police to find them even if they are forced to run. Make sure your nurses are being intelligently monitored 24/7 to ensure that they are not forced to wait when it matters most.
As the home nursing industry continues to grow, caregivers deserve better working conditions, starting with safety. They deserve a solution that provides a visible deterrent to would-be threats, while giving them direct access to law enforcement if a threat materializes.
In an increasingly competitive hiring market, show potential employees that you put them first, and that they will be safe on the job by utilizing the newest worker monitoring technology.
Note: this article first appeared in a slightly different form on HomeCare Magazine.