Long before COVID-19 became one of the most critical healthcare topics facing the globe, the needs of and discussions around home healthcare had been growing at a rapid pace. This is partially due to the assistance needed by an aging population, which in Canada makes up more than 6 million people older than 65. By 2030, that number will grow to over 9.5 million.
Home healthcare workers encounter daily risks that can be detrimental to their health. Similar to nurses, some of the hazards home health aides face can include stress, extreme temperatures, unhygienic or unsanitary conditions, unruly pets, sensitivity to latex gloves and verbal abuse. A small percentage of home healthcare workers have even expressed the presence of guns in the home as another risk they face.
To ensure your safety, take the following steps to minimize risks.
1. Assess the Community
Like anyone starting a new job, home healthcare workers must understand and assess their community and surroundings. If it's a new neighborhood, make sure to know the exact location of your visit. Healthcare workers should ensure that the agency representing them knows their location at all times. Also, being vigilant about keeping your cell phone for emergencies and protecting belongings will ensure greater safety and a sense of security.
Similarly, knowing how to take care of emergencies in a new environment requires home healthcare workers to know where the nearest hospitals (or even emergency services) facilities are.
2. Get To and From Work Safely
Of course, being able to get to and from the desired location should also be considered. Is it a dangerous area? Would severe weather make it more challenging to get to?
It may seem obvious but having a vehicle that is in working order is a key factor in ensuring a safe commute. Preventing driving-related risks and injuries will go a long way to making the visit a better experience. Avoid distracting activities while driving, get a good night's rest, have an emergency kit in the car, and try to make your commute during daylight hours on main roads to maintain safety. If you are taking public transportation, map out the route ahead of time, and stay in well-lit and high pedestrian traffic areas.
3. Be on the Lookout for Home Hazards
Getting to your destination and understanding new surroundings is one step in reducing risks. Understanding your indoor surroundings is another. It's wise to check for hazards anytime you enter a client's home.
For example, loose carpeting or exposed electrical hazards can place unnecessary risks that can harm you, your patient, and the work you need to do. Be mindful of uneven or slippery floors, lack of proper handrails on stairs, and clutter. If possible, you may want to suggest to your patient to store items properly and keep drawers closed. These easily avoidable situations can be addressed promptly to avoid more significant problems down the road.
4. Secure Your Privacy
While you'll want to be friendly and approachable to your client, a home healthcare worker needs to care for their own wellbeing. Securing privacy means keeping personal or intimate details private, especially social media and other public forums. It's not a bad idea to prepare confidentiality agreements to ensure your information is kept confidential. Most people are not likely to divulge intimate secrets, but it's better to be safe than sorry.
5. Practice Safe Person Handling
Physical strain and injury can result from improper patient handling. Home healthcare workers should review and put into practice the proper ways to lift and transfer patients. Assistive devices are an important way to help reduce this kind of strain. Whenever possible, assistive devices such as draw sheets, slide boards, rollers, slings and mechanical hoists should be used to avoid injury and ensure occupational safety.
In fact, proper safe patient handling can reduce home healthcare worker injuries by 95%. Using MIP Cares products such as the Swift Patient Positioner and the UltraSlide Fitted Bottom Sheet will save caregivers time and decrease the risk of injury, while improving the quality of patient care.
6. Be Attentive of Pets
Pets are our friends, in most cases. But for home healthcare workers, pets can pose problems. Not only can biting or scratching cause serious injury, but pets can also be tripped over and cause allergic reactions for some people. Whether they are friendly or not, it's best not to touch or engage with pets without discussing it with your patient first.
7. Take Care of Your Own Health
Similar to putting on our oxygen masks first in a plane before assisting others, the healthcare worker must also look after their health first. It's essential to proactively monitor your mental and physical health. Overexertion or stress can come on fast, and a day off can help prevent burnout and injury. Keep an eye on yourself when lifting a patient. Use the proper methods of bending at the knees, using good posture and watching your step at all times.
8. Stay Vigilant for Signs of Violence
No one, in any workplace environment, should tolerate abusive or violent behavior. Although rare, violence can rear its head in a home healthcare setting. Inform yourself of any history of mental illness, dementia or anger issues your patient may have. In extreme cases, you may want to work in tandem with another home healthcare worker to have immediate help on site. When or if episodes arise, stay calm, regulate your voice and movements, and find a safe space to notify your manager. In extreme situations, calling the police may be necessary.
9. Practice Safe Hygiene Measures
During COVID-19, the general public has been learning the hygiene methods already known to home healthcare workers. Wearing PPE (gloves, masks, shields, etc.), and frequent hand washing is vital in preventing the spread or contraction of viruses. It's also important to properly dispose of sharp equipment, old medications and medical waste in the patient's home.
10. Use Common Sense
Home healthcare workers need to trust their instincts and use common sense. Don't go into new situations blindly. Make sure you have clear directions to the home you are visiting. Protect your belongings at all times by locking car doors and hiding valuables.
Safety is crucial. Keep your cell phone handy for emergency calls and make sure someone knows where you are at all times.