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Study identifies health issues and need for improved healthcare access among patient care aides

December 5, 2019
NIOSH Update:

MEDIA CONTACT: Nura Sadeghpour, , 202.245.0673

Healthcare Aid with Patient

Workers who provide basic care to patients in a variety of healthcare settings may need care themselves. A new study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)  found that patient care aides have limited access to healthcare and high prevalences of some adverse health outcomes. The study published online in October in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

An estimated 2.4 million workers are employed as patient care aides. The workforce is growing quickly, with jobs for home health aides expected to increase most rapidly (47% by 2026). Patient care aides comprise a low-wage workforce, with a median wage of $12.31 per hour in 2017.

The new study used data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) to examine the health of patient care aides, who provide hands-on care in three different settings: home health, nursing homes, and hospitals, and whose tasks range from bathing patients to checking their vital signs. More than 90% of home health and nursing home aides in the BRFSS analysis were female, and more than half identified as Black non-Hispanic, Hispanic, or as members of other minority groups.

The new study found that:

  • compared to clerical workers, patient care aides had lower levels of healthcare access (having health insurance, having a healthcare home, being able to afford medical visits, and obtaining preventive medical and dental care).
  • patient care aides were more likely to smoke, be obese, and have insufficient sleep.
  • aides in the home health setting fared worst on most of these measures, followed by nursing homes; home health workers were also the most likely of the three patient care aide groups to report poor physical health, depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arthritis, and asthma.
  • nearly 60% of home health aides, 46% of nursing home aides, and 34% of hospital aides had not had an influenza vaccination during the previous 12 months. This level is well below the Healthy People 2020 (IID-12.13) target of 90% vaccination of health care personnel, intended to enhance protection of both health care personnel and their patients.

“This research provides information about the health status of this low-wage segment of the healthcare workforce and highlights the need to address issues ranging from gaps in healthcare access to high levels of health issues, such as arthritis, that may be related to patient-care tasks,” says Sharon Silver, lead author of the study. “While the effects of tasks such as patient lifting are increasingly being addressed in the relatively centralized worksites of hospitals and nursing homes, more research is needed to determine how best to develop and disseminate solutions tailored to home health aides, a group of workers with the fewest economic resources, high turnover rates, and multiple, dispersed, and frequently changing worksites.”

An early online view of the new study can be accessed here.  For more information about NIOSH work in healthcare worker research, please visit this topic page.

NIOSH is the federal institute that conducts research and makes recommendations for preventing work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths. For more information about NIOSH visit