HCAOA’s Vicki Hoak: Home Care Must Take Advantage of Its Moment in the Spotlight

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Home-based care agencies and their workers are getting some rare time in the national spotlight during this year’s political cycle.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and VP pick Kamala Harris, for example, have gone out of their way to recognize the work that home-based care workers do on a regular basis.

They’ve particularly heralded their work during the COVID-19 crisis. 

“We believe that our country — all of us — will stand together for a better future,” Harris said during the Democratic National Convention in August. “We already are. We see it in the doctors, the nurses, the home health care workers … who are risking their lives to save people they’ve never met.”

On his end, Biden has laid out a 10-year plan for advancing long-term care, which includes a $775 billion overhaul of the nation’s caregiving infrastructure.

Biden also touted the innovative, interdisciplinary aging-in-place program CAPABLE during a campaign speech. 

“Home health workers do God’s work, but aren’t paid much,” Biden wrote on Twitter on July 21. “They have few benefits, and 40% are still on SNAP or Medicaid. It’s unacceptable. I’ll give caregivers and early childhood educators a much-needed raise.”

Also of note: Speaking on behalf of North Carolina at the Democratic National Convention was Cozzie Watkins, a long-time nurse working in the home health field.

But it’s not what Biden, Harris and other political figures are saying that is so exciting, industry leaders say. It’s the fact they’re saying something at all. 

Vicki Hoak, the executive director of the Home Care Association of America (HCAOA), has spent the last two decades vying for home-based care agencies and their workers.

She’s heard the field and its workers mentioned more on her television in the past few months than she can ever remember, she told Home Health Care News. 

“I think it’s the start of something,” Hoak said. “I always like to say we were the prescription to COVID-19 — staying at home, monitoring and dealing with the most vulnerable population to the virus. … I think that also kind of elevated us into the spotlight.”

On the other side of the aisle, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has also been advocating for home-based care for years.

Particularly for non-medical home care, the industry put on a different hat for the first time, almost literally. Personal protective equipment (PPE), once foreign to home care workers, became required. Infection control turned into a priority.

Home care agencies were sending workers to monitor patients with a virus that was wreaking havoc on the country and playing a vital part in fighting it.

“It’s just so wonderful for us to see home care workers being mentioned and getting the recognition they deserve, right along with our hospital front-line workers,” Hoak said. “It just shows that we truly are part of the health care system.”

‘We have the visibility’

While the attention is exciting, it can also be fleeting.

The increased visibility means that it’s time to prove the worth of home care workers and home care overall, Hoak said.

HCAOA recently launched a data and research committee, which is setting out to prove home care’s worth. Coming up with objective data on home care is a relatively tall task, as many home care companies haven’t traditionally invested in internal data and metrics programs.

Although agencies undoubtedly prevent readmissions, 75% of them did not track readmission rates at all in 2019, according to data from Idaho-based market research and education firm Home Care Pulse.

Tracking fall rates, ER prevention and readmissions will help agencies’ efforts with insurers and the industry’s effort in gaining the attention of the general public.

In addition, Hoak is hoping that — like home health care — home care will start having more discernible standards across the country. That means more than just 30 states having licensure requirements and having more consistent guidelines in the ones that do.

“We need to recognize it and make it known what the standards are,” Hoak said. “But we must take advantage of this time and opportunity.”

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