Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 4, 2013

Fred Goldenberg: Proper training for proper care

Special to the Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Personal care aide (PCA) is the fastest growing occupation in the United States.

Currently there are 800,000 PCA’s employed with another 600,000 to be added to their ranks between 2010 and 2020. Unfortunately, proper training and certification is sorely lacking in all fifty states. There are currently no federal training requirements, and standards vary widely state to state.

The Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI) just released a study where they assessed the training standards state by state. What they found is not very encouraging if you or a loved one is being cared for by a PCA. Ten states have no training requirements in any programs (i.e. home health care; nursing home care; adult daycare), and in the 23 states with one or more programs, they too had no training requirement. Ten have some training on only certain programs. Of those states that did have training curriculum, only four states require PCA’s complete a home health aide training program and get certified.

I just returned from vacation and went to lift my suitcase out of the car, lifted wrong and hurt my back. Now imagine lifting a 150-pound person out of a bath tub without proper technique. Russ Knopp, owner of Comfort Keepers, a local TC home health care agency, told me that training is the number one issue they face every day.

“Nationally Comfort Keepers has recognized the importance of training and has made it the number one priority of each of their franchisees. We devote countless hours training our staff. Making sure that both the client and the aide are safe at all times is so important that even though Michigan doesn’t have any standardization, we do."

And he’s right. Michigan doesn’t have any formal training programs or criteria, but employees must sign an agreement that they will compile with any training required by their employer. Great, but what if the employer doesn’t offer any training?

Home care agencies are springing up around here like dandelions in springtime. Pick a name, get a business card and hire a bunch of warm bodies and you’re in business. It’s the perfect Ma & Pa business concept, only you’re not selling something you made in your woodshop or cooked on your stove. You are taking on the care and welfare of another human being and that, my friend, is a big deal.

But there is some good news. Michigan was one of six states awarded a three-year grant by the federal government to develop a credentialing and training program for PCA’s, as part of the Personal and Home Care Aide State Training (PHCAST) Program, a provision of the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

Building Training, Building Quality is a program run by the Area Agency on Aging (AAA) that has trained approximately 100 individuals (26 new being trained right now) in the proper techniques associated with caring for the most frail and vulnerable individuals. According to Beth Eisch of AAA, who is overseeing the development and process for BTBQ, the program has been very successful over the last three years, but unfortunately the grant is running out at the end of September and they are now searching for additional funding to continue this vital program.

"The core curriculum came from PHI and we adapted to our needs," Eisch said. "Individuals go through 77 hours of intensive training and after the program receives a certificate of completion, which they can then take to a prospective employer. Although the grant didn’t include a job placement, we were able to market to local companies and we worked closely with Michigan Works to place people.”

Eisch said she once was a case worker working with a client who needs to be transported by a mechanical lift. The PCA who showed up that day was a cashier at a gas station 24-hour earlier.

So much for employer-initiated training.

So the program exists. It works. It’s worked for the last three years. People have used it and now it’s going to sit on the shelf unless we demand it be used. The program is being over seen by the Office of Services to the Aging.

Give them a call in Lansing (517) 323-3687 or here in TC (231) 929-2531, and tell them what you think about BTBQ and how it needs to be continued.

Fred L. Goldenberg is a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA) and the owner of Senior Benefit Solutions, LLC, a patient & consumer advocacy and financial services organization in Traverse City. If you have any questions or comments about this article or any other senior issue he can be reached at 231-922-1010 or