As the aging population continues to grow in the Rochester area and nationwide, and as more senior citizens — especially in the Latino community — prefer to live in their own homes or with family as long as possible, the need for home health aides also is on the rise, according to health and home-care officials.
The percentage of Hispanic elders who live with family members grows as the elders age, with up to 35 percent of Hispanic seniors ages 80 and older living with relatives, according to a 2014 report from the American Association of Retired Persons (http://bit.ly/2tXJUel). Additionally, nearly 40 percent of women ages 65 and older live alone, according to a report by the Center for Housing Police (http://bit.ly/2t0Zbez).
"There is a growing recognition that if home-health-aide-level services are provided into the home for the disabled or elderly population, that can help to keep people healthier and enable them to live in their homes longer," noted Susan Bourne, vice president of Home Care at Rochester Regional Health (RRH). "The lowest cost to provide care is in the home. It definitely keeps overall health-care costs down."
The duties of an aide vary but generally include such personal care as bathing, dressing and meal preparation as well as assisting with mobility, explained Linda Andrews, director of patient services for Lifetime Care’s Home Care Plus.
"Sometimes, that’s the most important thing to a patient — knowing somebody is coming to the house that day," she said.
Keeping up with demand for aides is increasingly challenging locally and across the country, observed Andrews. Lifetime Care employs about 350 aides, she said.
Factors contributing to a shortage of aides include lower wages for entry-level positions, a need to work for several agencies to make a decent living and the unique demands of working one-on-one with an elderly person, said Luis Torres, codirector of the Rochester Worker Center.
The center will offer a training session for home health aides in July to educate them about their rights as well as offer training for interviews and negotiating salaries, he said.
"Our outreach and lot of our programming is focused on the home health aide industry," Torres added.
Through conversations with local aides who have become members of the new worker center, he said he has learned about the challenges they face in their jobs, including a need for more family-friendly hours.
"We love our jobs," explained Ruby Jennings, who became a home health aide to care for her own mother. "Elderly people need us. We want to be be able to help them."
Aides like Jennings also have faced obstacles when it comes to properly caring for Spanish-speaking clients, Torres said.
"If there’s not a language barrier, they’re going to do much better," said Andrews, who added that Lifetime Care also is trying to recruit more bilingual aides.
Providing aides who are culturally competent as well as bilingual also helps clients develop trusting relationships that are a necessary component for their care, Bourne said.
"Aides go into our patient’s home," she said. "What we see, especially with the Hispanic population, is that someone who can speak the language and understand cultural norms, trust develops in a faster and stronger way."
As someone born in Puerto Rico and raised in Rochester, Lissette Mendez-Cotto personally understands the value of bilingual aides for the home-care industry and for Latino patients’ quality of life.
"What a difference it makes for the residents to be able to relate on that level (with the aides)" through a common language and culture, she added.
Hiring more bilingual aides also is an important part of the mission of RRH to represent the community it serves as an organization, added Méndez-Cotto, who works in RRH’s human resources’ business operations department.
"We just need more bilingual staff (in general)," especially in the nursing field, added Vanessa Burgos, an RRH recruiter. "It’s an area we can improve on, and we want to build those relationships."
To assist with recruiting more bilingual employees, RRH is developing a partnership with Ibero-American Action League, she added. Also, RRH is reaching out to church groups in the community and other agencies like Action for a Better Community as well as providing information about job opportunities internally, Burgos said.
To provide job stability and reduce a need for an aide to work for multiple agencies, Bourne and Andrews said they offer training, competitive wages, benefits and opportunities for career advancement. Training also is available through the Rochester Educational Opportunity Center, said Patricia Beaudrie, community relations coordinator. The center also works with agencies — which also have indicated a growing need for more bilingual employees — so most aides are placed in jobs upon completion of the training, she said.
Beaudrie and Andrews noted that being an aide, however, is not for everyone.
"You’ve got to be a compassionate person who is going to be invested in the purpose and mission (of the organization)," Andrews said. "We only want to bring in folks who will do well and be successful and make a difference in a person’s life on any given day."