Our next healthcare crisis will be in the home—are we prepared?

A variety of factors have combined to increase the demand for home healthcare, but the number of nurses prepared to take on this role is not keeping pace.

“This is a huge issue because healthcare is moving out of hospitals and into the community—and we’re not prepared for it,” said Janet Rico, assistant associate dean for graduate education at Northeastern’s School of Nursing.

To address the growing skills gap, the Bouvé College of Health Sciences School of Nursing will hold a day-long symposium Friday, June 7, in partnership with the Home Care Alliance of Massachusetts.

Photo by Brooks Canaday

Nursing professor Janet Rico

“We want to increase awareness of the problem and improve the synergies between agencies, government entities, and educational institutions,” said Rico. “One of our primary goals is to explore how academics and home healthcare agencies can collaborate to improve recruitment and retention of nurses within this setting, as well as their competencies to provide high-quality care.”

This is particularly important because home healthcare often involves children with complex medical conditions or high-risk elders with multiple co-morbidities. According to the healthcare consulting company Alavare, 50 percent of elderly homecare patients have five or more chronic conditions. Shifting demographics are straining the ability of home and hospice care to keep up. Between 2010 and 2030, the senior citizen population will increase by 75% to 69 million. The number of Americans age 85 and older is projected to double by 2050.

“Practitioners in this field are very autonomous,” said Rico. “They are out there in the field by themselves. It’s not like in a hospital setting where you always have someone to ask. Homecare practitioners need to hone their assessments skills and practice in autonomous decision making.”

This is why real-world experience during clinical rotations is so important. It’s also where educational facilities, like Bouvé’s state-of-the-art Simulation Lab, come into play.

The dramatic increase in home healthcare is being driven by a variety of factors including:

  • The rising costs of hospital stays
  • Greater patient satisfaction at home
  • The disturbing rise in hospital-acquired infections.

As a result, approximately 4.5 million Americans receive home healthcare annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That translates into more than 175,000 jobs for registered nurses, a figure that is expected to increase by 57 percent by 2024, according to the staffing firm, AMN Healthcare. On top of that, New England has the oldest nursing workforce of any region in the country, along with the slowest rate of replenishment.

With demand outstripping supply, recruitment strategies will be another major topic of conversation at the symposium.

“Our primary goal is ignition,” said Rico. “We want to ignite the agencies and nursing schools to make this a priority. This symposium is just the beginning.”

Join Professor Thomas for his exciting new course offered this Spring

Introductory Skills for Healthcare and Rehabilitation (HLTH 2001).

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