On-the-Job Injuries Hurt Home Health Care Industry

August 9, 2010

Penn State researchers have found that training can alleviate some of the pain occupational injuries have caused to the long-term care industry. The study, which is being presented at the 2010 Academy of Management Annual Meeting in August 2010 and will be published in the 2010 Academy of Management Annual Meeting Best Paper Proceedings, looked at the effect of injuries among home health aides.

Typical responsibilities of a home health aide include visiting patients’ homes to assist with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, and eating. Many people enrolled in home health care suffer from multiple health challenges, which can result in erratic and sometimes violent behavior. Additionally, home health aides commonly engage in manual labor by lifting patients. Home health aides are commonly injured multiple times on the job. These injuries, as shown by the Penn State researchers, impact more than just employees—home health care organizations and the long-term care industry as a whole end up suffering the brunt of occupational injuries’ effects.

“In our research, we saw a cascading effect,” says Dr. Deirdre McCaughey, assistant professor of health policy and administration and first author on the paper. “Employees who had no workplace training or did not believe their training prepared them well had more injuries. Those employees were also much less likely than non-injured employees to recommend their organization as a place to work or seek care services.”

The researchers analyzed data from the nationally representative 2007 National Home Health Aide Survey, which was funded by the United States Department of Health and Human Services and conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Findings show a significant drop in injury rates when employees had training. Non-injured employees also had much higher job satisfaction rates and lower turnover intentions than injured employees.

“Employees who received training have lower injury rates,” says McCaughey. “What this suggests is that investing finances into ‘soft resources’ can have tangible benefits to organizations. Organizations tend to cut back on spending on soft resources, especially during hard economic times, because there is usually no easily measured benefit.” Cutting back on home health aides’ training increases employees’ injury risks and turnover intentions, both of which will likely incur more costs over the long run.

The links among injuries, training, and employee turnover are another major finding of the study. These links have implications on quality of care. Employee training resulted in fewer injuries and decreased turnover rates, which means that the workforce remained more consistent. McCaughey worked as a physical therapist prior to her research role, and she had the chance to see how much people depend on a familiar face in health care, especially when a person is suffering from poor memory and confusion. Continual new faces in the continuum of care only add to the confusion.

The researchers also found that employee perceptions of the workplace and employee training could affect the likelihood of injuries. Employees who felt that their training had not prepared them well were three times more likely to be injured than employees who felt their training prepared them well. Similarly, employees who felt that they had poor supervisor support were at higher risk for injuries—one and a half times more likely to have one injury and three times more likely to have three injuries, compared to those who felt they had supportive supervisors.

Employees who felt that their training prepared them well for their daily job duties had lower injury rates and were more likely to rate their organization highly, both as a place to work and from which to seek services.

“Employee perceptions are crucial; they play a role in motivating employees to work harder or they can drive them to quit,” says McCaughey.

McCaughey and her colleagues are expanding their injury research, now looking at nursing aides. Other authors on the paper include Dr. Diane Brannon, professor of health policy and administration; Dr. Rita Jablonski, assistant professor of nursing; Ms. Gwen McGhan, project administrator, Penn State’s School of Nursing; and Jungyoon Kim, health policy and administration Ph.D. student.

Funding for the research was provided by Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute.

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Editors: Deirdre McCaughey can be reached at dxm68@psu.edu. For additional information, please contact the College of Health and Human Development Office of College Relations at 814-865-3831 or healthhd@psu.edu.