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Jan. 30, 2017

Two grants help Michigan's elderly with in-home care

As Michigan’s population ages, an increasing number of residents will need better health care to remain in their homes, maintain the quality of their lives and avoid unnecessary hospitalization. Yet many don’t get it.

Two Michigan State University College of Human Medicine researchers, supported by grants from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, hope to change that.

Clare Luz, an assistant professor of family medicine, received a $500,000 grant to train and increase the number of personal care aides who provide in-home health care.

In addition, Joan Ilardo, the college’s director of research initiatives, received a $376,593 grant for a program to teach health care providers, patients and their families how to engage better with each other, thus promoting healthier lifestyles and improving the self-management of chronic health conditions.

“The underlying premise of both grants is that we want people to be in the best environment for them with people who have the best tools to care for them,” Ilardo said. “We’re trying to optimize everything we can to make their quality of life the best that it can be.”

The two programs are complementary and share the goal of helping older Michigan residents remain as healthy as possible by enhancing health provider, patient and caregiver skills and communication.

Both researchers indicated that these skills would improve the quality of people’s lives, help avoid unnecessary treatment, hospital and nursing home stays by allowing people to maintain their health and remain in their own homes, while reducing medical costs.

“This is a great opportunity,” Luz said, adding that both programs are “dealing with an aging population and the health care needs of that population.” Together the programs “can make a dramatic difference in reducing hospital admissions,” she said.

According to Luz, Michigan is already facing a critical shortage of personal care aides and the shortage is expected to become worse as the baby boom generation ages. By 2020, Michigan will need an estimated 196,000 personal care aides, but is expected to fall 32,000 short of that goal.

She said low pay and status contribute to the shortage, along with a high turnover rate among personal care aides.

“I don’t understand why we don’t value aides more because the work that they do is pivotal,” she said. “Since they are on the frontline, spending significant time with clients and providing hands-on support, they can observe a person’s health status and changes first-hand. Their skills can make all the difference in patient outcomes and health care utilization.”

The state does not license in-home caregivers, nor does it require a minimum amount of training. With better training, the pay and the status of personal care aides should improve, Luz said, thus attracting more workers.

Luz's Integrated Model for Personal Assistant Research and Training project, also known as IMPART, will build on an earlier pilot program in which she played a critical role in collaboration with the state’s Aging & Adult Services Agency, the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, and multiple community partners.

Through partnerships with the College of Human Medicine’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, MSU’s Usability/Accessibility Research and Consulting, the Community Services Network, Michigan’s Aging & Adult Services Agency and Yale University, Luz hopes to partner with other agencies throughout Michigan to develop a strong coalition in support of a high-quality personal aide workforce.

Ilardo, a member of the Michigan Commission on Services to the Aging, plans to build on her existing partnerships as well. With collaborations already in place with Michigan’s 16 area Agencies on Aging, MSU Extension, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and other organizations, she plans to implement the Partners in Aging Strategies and Training program that will help health care providers, patients and their families improve communication with each other.

“It really is about feeling empowered to ask questions along with knowing which questions to ask and having a toolbox of skills from which to draw on to create action plans that use the answers,” she said.

Both grants from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund are intended to help meet the goal of improving the care of the state’s aging population.

“It touches all of us,” Luz said, “our parents, our partners, and ultimately, ourselves.”

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