Women in the workforce: Home healthcare edition
Over the last decade, the demand for home healthcare has significantly increased. A recent report by Redseer Consulting indicates that the home healthcare industry in India is expected to grow at an impressive annual rate of 15-19 %, reaching the market potential of $11-13 billion by 2025 from the present $5.4 billion. Organized home healthcare providers are likely to serve 4-5 lakh patients by FY 25, up from the present number of a lakh. Rise in ageing population, increase in nuclear family structures and personalized care are some of the reasons behind this growth. With the rise of home healthcare, there’s bound to be a supply and demand gap for home healthcare professionals. This not only leads to stress on the home healthcare workforce but also impacts the quality of care.
As per FSG’s in house data, in India, there are approximately 10,000 nurses who are employed by home healthcare companies. Out of this, at least 50% are women. Home healthcare professionals - comprising physiotherapists, nurses, caregivers, speech therapists - offer a range of services that require specialized training and experience. While both men and women healthcare professionals face numerous challenges, it’s important to highlight some of the unique challenges that women healthcare professionals face while taking up home healthcare jobs.
What are some of the challenges?
- Work fatigue: Most women healthcare workers take up home healthcare jobs to financially support their families. In addition to providing financial support, they have to manage day- to- day household responsibilities. Long working hours that go beyond 12 hours can cause over exertion which may lead to physical and mental stress. To add to this, long commutes from one destination to another especially in harsh weather conditions can add to their stress.
- Occupational safety conditions: Unlike working in a hospital where the environment is controlled and predictable, home healthcare workers have to navigate unpredictable working conditions. Many women workers are anxious when visiting a new home and worry about their safety.
- Lack of confidence: Home healthcare workers who are new to the profession may initially feel overwhelmed when they have to handle all procedures by themselves. To handle patients independently, they require specialized skills and experience. With no supervisors around to assist them, they may feel under confident to manage complications if any.
- Lack of social life: Home healthcare workers have limited interaction with their peers in the company. This can make them feel lonely, especially in cases where they have migrated from other cities and do not have any social networks in the city. Since there are no daily social interactions with colleagues and supervisors, they might feel isolated.
- Dignity of work: Caregivers sometimes do not receive adequate respect from patients and their families. This leads to a not so comfortable working environment for the caregivers. It may even create psychological stress for the home healthcare worker.
To address the above mentioned challenges, organized home healthcare providers have introduced a number of initiatives to make sure that home healthcare is looked at as an aspirational profession.
How can we address these challenges?
- Educate patients and families: While home healthcare companies educate customers on the responsibilities and roles that caregivers are expected to perform, companies can conduct additional awareness sessions among customers on how to create a safe and respectful environment for caregivers.
- Continuous learning: Regular training and upskilling programs help women workers to be equipped to handle patients independently. Providing them a hands-on experience gives them confidence and gears them to be job ready. As they gain more experience, home healthcare companies can develop specialized career paths and enable them to move along these career paths.
- Predefined protocols: Home healthcare companies can develop predefined mechanisms that have to be strictly followed prior to assigning a caregiver to a customer.
Some of the processes could include the following
- Site visits by supervisors before placing the caregiver to ensure safety, especially for female caregivers. For example, ensuring the presence of females in the patient’s household can make the experience much more comfortable for the health worker.
- Emergency contact numbers that caregivers can call in case they face safety issues
- Educating caregivers on safe and unsafe environments and the immediate steps to follow in case of an emergency.
Regular calls from supervisors to check on the well-being of caregivers
Shorter and efficient working hours: Home healthcare companies can improve allocation processes by assigning customers to caregivers who live in the vicinity. If a caregiver lives in a location close by to the customer, it reduces travel time and also ensures efficient use of their time. In addition to this, home healthcare companies could explore the possibility of creating a customer offering where women can work for a shorter number of hours.
Engagement forums: Home healthcare companies can develop forums through which caregivers can engage with their peers and stay updated on the key initiatives being undertaken by their organization.
As home healthcare sees a surge, there’s bound to be an increase in demand for highly skilled and qualified home care professionals. To ensure high quality care for the patients, it’s important to first ensure that the challenges faced by women healthcare workers are addressed. With more than 50% of the home healthcare workforce being women, established and organized healthcare players must implement solutions that improve day-to-day working conditions of women home healthcare workers.