Injuries and Illness, Personnel Safety

NIOSH Study Finds Health Risks Among Patient Care Aides

Patient care aides have limited access to health care and a high prevalence of some adverse health outcomes such as arthritis that may be related to their occupational tasks, researchers for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found in a recently published study.

Safe Patient Handling and Mobility, SPHM

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These workers who provide basic care to patients in a variety of healthcare settings may not be receiving adequate care themselves, according to NIOSH. Patient care aides provide hands-on care in three different settings: home health, nursing homes, and hospitals. Their tasks range from bathing patients to checking their vital signs. Their risks include patient lifting and repositioning.

The NIOSH study found that:

  • Compared to clerical workers, patient care aides had lower levels of healthcare access, defined as having health insurance, having a healthcare home, being able to afford medical visits, and obtaining preventive medical and dental care;
  • Patient care aides were more likely to smoke, be obese, and have insufficient sleep;
  • Aides in the home health setting fared worst on most measures, followed by nursing homes;
  • Home health workers also were the most likely of the three patient care aide groups to report poor physical health, depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arthritis, and asthma.
  • Nearly 60% of home health aides, 46% of nursing home aides, and 34% of hospital aides had not had an influenza vaccination during the previous 12 months, a level well below the Healthy People 2020 target of 90% vaccination of healthcare personnel to protect both healthcare personnel and their patients.

“This research highlights the need to address issues ranging from gaps in healthcare access to high levels of health issues, such as arthritis, that may be related to patient-care tasks,” the study’s lead author, Sharon Silver, said in a statement.

“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.

An estimated 2.4 million workers are employed as patient care aides, and the workforce is growing quickly, with jobs for home health aides expected to increase rapidly—47 percent by 2026.

The study used data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) to examine the health of patient care aides.

There is a need to focus resources on the patient care aide workforce, particularly those in home health, Silver and her coauthor concluded. Patient care aides also would benefit from standardized workplace interventions, and alternate, workplace‐specific approaches to reduce the prevalence of arthritis‐related conditions.

NIOSH, established by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 along with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), is a federal institute that conducts research and makes recommendations for preventing work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths. NIOSH is a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).