As our population ages, there is an increased need for health care assistants (HCAs) – a group of workers who are injured more often than any other occupation in BC.
“‘HCA’ is an umbrella term that covers a number of occupational titles — Care Aide and Community Health Worker are two of the biggest,” says Heather Middleton, Industry Specialist for health care at WorkSafeBC.
In BC’s Peace Region, for example, the Northern Health Authority projects a need for 143 new health care assistants during the next five years, says a recent story in the Alaska Highway News.
“They provide the most personal of care to people, often at the end of their lives,” Heather says. “They do work that’s both physically and emotionally draining, often working on their own. Few get the opportunities that are afforded many other care workers, like education or professional development.”
Overexertion and violence are the greatest hazards faced by these workers who help clients of all ages with bathing, feeding, and other tasks. WorkSafeBC reports more than 3,300 time-loss claims for HCAs in 2015, up more than 50 percent since 2011. The majority of HCAs with a time-loss claim are women (94 per cent) with 25 percent being over the age of 55.
Some feel like part of the family
A friend of mine told me about the HCAs who helped her dad, when she was a kid. Her dad owned a small business that was just getting successful, but it all ended suddenly when he suffered a massive stroke during a surgery for cancer. When he came home from the hospital, my friend was only seven, with two little sisters and their mom devoted to his care.
Home care workers were an important source of support, especially one who was with her family for 10 years.
“She treated us all like family — cared for my dad like he was her own father — always asking him what he needed and being kind to him. She would touch his shoulders or give him a hug,” says my friend. “There are some really, really nice caring workers out there and they should be honoured. It’s not an easy job. It’s full of frustration and learning. Each person they look after has different needs, but all of them need dignity and compassion.”
WorkSafeBC is sponsoring the 2016 Celebrate & Educate Hearts & Hands Conference on Thursday October 6 in Esquimalt. This conference is the first of its kind, bringing together HCAs, community health workers, and home care workers.
October 18 is Health Care Assistant Day in BC, first proclaimed by the BC government in 2011. In total, there are 31,500 people registered with the Care Aide and Community Health Worker Registry.