December 5, 2019

NIOSH Study Finds Health Issues among Patient Care Aides

A recent NIOSH study of patient care aides raises concerns regarding health issues and limited access to healthcare among these workers. According to the agency, approximately 2.4 million U.S. workers are employed as patient care aides who provide basic care to patients at home, in nursing homes, and in hospitals. NIOSH researchers found that compared to clerical workers, patient care aides have lower levels of health insurance coverage and are less able to afford medical visits and to obtain preventive medical and dental care. Patient care aides are also more likely to smoke, be obese, and have insufficient sleep. The study found that aides working in home health settings specifically are the most likely to report adverse health outcomes such as poor physical health, depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arthritis, and asthma. Aides working in nursing homes were the second most likely—ahead of patient care aides working at hospitals—to report these health effects.

NIOSH’s study used data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a system of telephone surveys that collect state data about U.S. residents regarding health-related risk behaviors, chronic health conditions, and use of preventive services. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, BRFSS completes more than 400,000 adult interviews each year. Of the home health and nursing home aides in the BRFSS analysis, more than 90 percent were female, and more than half identified as Black non-Hispanic, Hispanic, or as members of other minority groups.

NIOSH describes patient care aides as a fast-growing, low-wage workforce. In 2017, the group’s median wage was $12.31 per hour. NIOSH expects jobs for home health aides to increase the most rapidly—by 47 percent by 2026.

Sharon Silver, lead author of the study, hopes that NIOSH’s research will highlight the need to address health issues and gaps in healthcare access among patient care aides.

“While the effects of tasks such as patient lifting are increasingly being addressed in the relatively centralized worksites of hospitals and nursing homes, more research is needed to determine how best to develop and disseminate solutions tailored to home health aides, a group of workers with the fewest economic resources, high turnover rates, and multiple, dispersed, and frequently changing worksites,” Silver said.

NIOSH’s study was published online in October in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. More information is available in the agency’s press release.

Related: Protecting Home Healthcare Aides,” an article published in the April 2019 issue of The Synergist, discusses challenges and opportunities for safe patient handling and mobility.