Direct Care Workers: Essential Elements of Our Health Care System

Posted by Gina Costa on 05:57 AM

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought some much-needed attention to the role of direct care worker. Prior to the pandemic, a direct care worker was neither a well-known profession nor a well-appreciated one. The pandemic has highlighted how essential the direct care worker role is in providing care and brought attention to the workforce shortage of this profession.

What do direct care workers do?

Direct Care Workers (DCWs), also referred to as Direct Support Professionals, provide hands on care, supervision, and emotional support to individuals in nursing homes, mental health facilities, assisted living facilities and home-care settings. Many Direct Care Workers are required to administer medications as prescribed as well as monitor and report any changes in physical, mental, or emotional conditions. Direct care work is often provided 24 hours a day 7 days a week to America’s most vulnerable populations. DCWs implement care plans and provide the largest amount of direct contact with individuals in these settings.

Why is their work so important?

Direct care workers are responsible for providing assistance to those who struggle with activities of daily living such as mobility, bathing, cooking, cleaning, or other abilities many of us take for granted. Direct care workers spend most of their time directly with the patient. They are the eyes and ears of the professional staff who may only have moments in time with the patient. Direct care workers can provide vital information to their care team.

Direct care workers offer comfort to those struggling with a variety of issues including mental health issues. Direct care workers may often be the only individual a person speaks to on a regular basis or may be the only person available to share good news or bad. Much of what a direct care worker provides is not something that is prescribed – it is the care they offer that is often undervalued.

What does it take to be a direct care worker?

Some might say direct care work is a calling. Others see it as an opportunity to gain valuable experience in the healthcare industry. Regardless of the reason, there are six essential skills necessary to be successful as a direct care worker:

  • Empathy: The ability to relate to another’s experiences or conditions, such as joy, suffering, sadness, or anger

  • Patience: Encouraging growth while moving at the pace of the person served

  • Compassion: Sympathetic awareness of the distress of the person served and a desire to alleviate it

  • Adaptability: Capability to adapt to new, different, and changing situations.

  • Reliability: Possessing the quality of being trustworthy or of performing consistently well.

  • Attentiveness: Attending to the comfort, well-being or wishes of the person served.

What are the benefits of being a direct care worker?

Although the work can be challenging there are many benefits to being a direct care worker. Those benefits include:

  • Rewarding and meaningful work

  • Ability to express and use inherent skills

  • Flexible hours for those who need a non-traditional schedule

  • The opportunity to grow interpersonal skills

  • There is a high need/demand for this type of work

What has impacted the direct care worker shortage?

There are many factors that have led to individuals leaving the direct care worker profession as well as preventing individuals from entering the direct care worker profession. Some of these factors include low wages or lack of guaranteed hours. Many agencies that employ direct care workers have limited employee benefits such as health insurance coverage, sick leave, or retirement benefits. The environments in which direct care workers are employed have high levels of physical and emotional stress and lack supervision or management support. The stress experienced by direct care workers is often due to inadequate training. Individuals employed as direct care workers are often not respected for their knowledge and skills and are not provided professional growth opportunities.

What is the future of the Direct Care Worker workforce?

The need for direct care workers is expected to increase over the next 10 years due to a growing population that needs their support. While the need increases, the vacancy rate for direct care workers is also expected to increase. The future of the direct care workers workforce will require creative recruitment and retention strategies. Without a focus on developing this important workforce, our most vulnerable will not have the assistance they need or quality of care they deserve.


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