Anne Peters
Anne Peters

Finding good caregivers to work in the senior home-care industry can be a challenge, says Anne Peters, owner of Home Instead Senior Care in West Des Moines.

Peters requires each new employee to complete four courses before he or she begins visiting clients’ homes. However, there is no standardized training for home-care workers – yet.

The Iowa Department of Public Health is working with the direct-care industry to develop a credentialing program for professional senior caregivers, similar to how certified nursing assistants and other health-care workers are certified.

In 2010, the Legislature passed House File 2526, which directed the Iowa Department of Public Health to establish a Board of Direct Care Professionals by July 1, 2014, which will have the authority to credential direct-care professionals.

“The point of the whole credentialing process is to bring awareness to the profession, and have a baseline of training so that the career is more portable,” said Peters, who serves on the Direct Care Workforce Advisory Council, a group formed by the health department to lead the initiative. Another goal is “to build that pipeline so that we can meet the demand for workers,” she said.

Currently, an education task force is developing a core curriculum that is scheduled to be finished by the end of the year. A two-year trial of that curriculum is expected to begin at several pilot sites across the state, among them Peters’ company, at the beginning of 2012. Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) is one of the participating colleges that will offer courses, Peters said.

Though details haven’t been finalized, the proposed curriculum would require six hours of course work to receive a direct-care associate credential, which will be mandatory for workers to complete before working with seniors. Beyond the associate level, between 24 and 40 hours of optional certification courses would likely be available, Peters said.

Recognition of senior home care as a profession would go a long way toward addressing the direct-care worker shortage, said Joel Olah, executive director of Aging Resources of Central Iowa.

“You have a generation gap now; a lot of the direct-care workers are chronologically older individuals, and that work is hard,” said Olah, who has worked in senior services for four decades. “So you have to have younger folks to come in and take their place and continue to work. There are shortages of direct-care workers not only for in-home care, but for institutional care as well, because it’s really the same pool of people.”

To attract more workers, the home-care industry will need to pay better wages and offer richer benefits, Olah said. Having a specific career path to follow and a means for advancement will also be beneficial, he said.

Olah, who chose senior services as his career when he was in his early 20s, said he wants more young people to select that path as well.

“I want people to follow in my footsteps to do the services that need to be performed, so I do a lot of lecturing at Des Moines University, Mercy College of Health Sciences and DMACC in their long-term care and aging-related programs to encourage people to get into the field, because we need providers desperately.”