NEW CUMBERLAND - Hancock County is taking a leadership role in developing new standards for workers who help the elderly in their homes.
The new standards, expected to become law in West Virginia early next year, are in the form of an in-home direct care worker registry and a certification course for people who want to work in that field.
"Our seniors deserve a trained and competent work force coming into their homes, and that's what this is all about for us," said E. Mark Knabenshue, executive director of Hancock County Senior Services. "Our Hancock County seniors will receive the best care available."
NEW STANDARDS DEVELOPED — E. Mark Knabenshue, right, executive director of Hancock County Senior Services, has helped develop new standards for in-home director care workers in West Virginia. Working to implement those standards will be, from left, Cindy Davis, director of the Division of In-Home Services; and Sally Knabenshue, associate director of programs and services. - Stephen Huba
Until recently, Knabenshue chaired a state committee that, for the last two years, has been developing a registry and certification curriculum for in-home direct care workers. The West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates are expected to vote on legislation early in the 2013 session that will put the state's imprimatur on the committee's work.
"It's really picked up some speed," Knabenshue said, "and some strong support."
Once everything is legal, the 90-hour curriculum will be available through county career and technical schools, such as the John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center in New Cumberland. Twenty-five hours of the curriculum will be clinical training, Knabenshue said.
The registry, scheduled to be active by July 1, will be maintained by the West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services. It will be a database containing the names of all the people who have been certified as in-home direct care workers. Certification will be granted by the West Virginia Department of Education and the Bureau of Senior Services.
It was soon after Hancock County Senior Services started its own Division of In-Home Services in 2005 that Knabenshue saw the need for better training of in-home workers, many of whom came from non-health care backgrounds.
Direct care workers go into the homes of the elderly to help them with bathing, personal hygiene, dressing, light meal preparation and light housekeeping, Knabenshue said.
As the population of senior citizens grows, so does the need for in-home direct care workers. "It's a fast-growing field," Knabenshue said. "Now is the time we begin to appreciate the work these people do day in and day out."
In 2010, Hancock County Senior Services received a $5,000 grant from the West Virginia Partnership for Elder Living to study the development of a registry and curriculum. Work began in earnest when Knabenshue assembled a committee of experts from across the state.
Knabenshue hopes the registry eventually becomes mandatory for anyone to work in the direct care field. Adding urgency to his task is the fact that, with the aging of the baby boomer population, 2,000 people turn 60 each month in West Virginia.
With a median age of 39.8, West Virginia has the second-oldest population in the United States, Knabenshue said. With a median age of 45.3, Hancock County has the third-oldest population in the state, he said.
More, better-trained workers will be needed, especially as people live longer and more people choose to live out their years independently at home, Knabenshue said.
An estimated 20,000 people in West Virginia work in the direct care field as nursing aides, home health aides and personal care aides, according to PHI PolicyWorks, a think tank in Bronx, N.Y. That work force is expected to grow, so that, by 2018, there will be more in-home direct care workers than nurses and kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers.
Improving the professionalism of the field also will serve to improve wages, Knabenshue said.
"It promises to address a very real problem of worker retention for in-home providers," he said.
Currently, about 38 percent of all in-home workers in West Virginia receive some form of public assistance, Knabenshue said. In 2009, the median hourly wage for home health workers in West Virginia was $7.90, according to PHI.
"These are very physically demanding jobs, and the low reimbursement rates (in the state) do not permit us to pay them a real living wage," Knabenshue said.
Next week in Fayetteville, W.Va., curriculum instructors will begin receiving their training. Knabenshue will give a presentation on the registry and curriculum at the 20th-annual West Virginia Rural Health Conference at the Resort at Glade Springs in Daniels, W.Va., from Nov. 14-16.