Why Me Too Still Matters (in Home Care Too)

Background on #Metoo (or The Me Too Movement)

Metoo is a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault. #Metoo went viral in October 2017 as a hashtag on social media. It was an attempt to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace. Tarana Burke, a social activist, began using the phrase "Me Too" as early as 2006. And, the phrase was later popularized by actress Alyssa Milano on Twitter in 2017. She encouraged victims of sexual harassment to tweet about it so people would better understand its magnitude.

Why #MeToo Still Matters as Much as Ever and Affects All Industries

The #MeToo hashtag and related social activism have helped shed light on problems in many industries. You’ve likely heard of celebrities accused of sexual harassment or assault. However, victims have come forward in industries ranging from politics to science and finance to sports. It is not just the incidents themselves. But that in many cases people in leadership roles systematically ignored, dismissed or covered them up.

Advocates in the Me Too movement hope to not only spread awareness, but change attitudes. And, therefore, change policies and laws. The Me Too movement has explored ways to better support victims. Advocates hope to eliminate practices that have allowed perpetrators to be protected and to combat underlying imbalances.

Me Too in Home Care

Like any industry, home care is not immune to issues of sexual harassment and assault. Women make up the majority of the home care workforce. Additionally, about 89% of home care workers are female. People of color make up almost half of the home care workforce. And most caregivers do not have formal education beyond high school. Therefore, this workforce faces many issues of societal inequality which could make them especially vulnerable.

Harassment and assault of a home care worker can come from colleagues, supervisors, clients or their family members. Because much of this work is done in homes versus in an office or managed workplace, we will focus on specific concerns in that environment. Our team has put together some things to be aware of and best practices for home care.

Vulnerability in the Home Environment

Home care puts employees in an atypical work environment, which can vary greatly. Caregivers will often be alone with clients (and sometimes family members). The home itself could be an uncomfortable place to work, such as when a client keep the air at an unpleasant temperature or there’s no place to sit and rest. Some homes are so cluttered and in disrepair that it can put the caregiver at risk. For this reason, home care companies must take precautions to help ensure a safe workplace.

We take several steps at EasyLiving, ranging from educating clients and their families to making home visits. Our supervisor attends the initial meeting so we’re able to see the home environment and make suggestions if needed. We do not put the onus on our caregivers, as they may find it hard to speak up about such things. And, clients don’t always realize that although it is their home, they need to provide appropriate working conditions.

Of course, this type of on-site work also means that caregivers can be at risk when it comes to their treatment. Unfortunately, home care workers sometimes experience inappropriate comments and harassing language. They may even encounter sexual advances or other mistreatment from clients and clients’ families. People often feel uncomfortable with the topic of sexuality in elders and mental capacity may be at play. Therefore, caregivers may be even less likely to speak up or get the support they need.

Setting Up an Environment of Safety and Success

Training/communication

Home care companies must emphasize caregiver safety and wellbeing from the start. The Me Too movement has taught us all the importance of talking openly about these concerns. They should be part of home care training and orientation. Supervisors building open communication with employees means they will be more comfortable coming forward about any concerns. Train supervisors and management on how to sensitively and effectively respond to complaints. From the top down, we set the tone of the workplace which must clearly convey full support for employees.

At EasyLiving, we made this our actual mission statement. And, we then use this as a guide for all our actions. Our mission is: To create an environment where we set our team members up for success empowering them to provide the best in home care service to the community. Team members come foremost in what we do. We could never hope to provide good service to our clients and the community without first prioritizing our caregivers. We can’t guarantee nothing will ever happen in the home. But, we work hard to create an environment where a caregiver would feel fully supported to come forward and trust us to address it.

Assessment and Care Planning

A thorough assessment helps to understand the client’s situation. It may uncover any potential concerns about behaviors. If so, the team can build a care plan around this to prevent, monitor and address such behavior.

But, since not all issues will come up in the assessment, home care companies should build in proactive feedback. At EasyLiving, we take the steps mentioned above to create open lines of communication. But, we also seek immediate feedback after the caregiver’s first visit, both from the client and caregiver. If there is anything the caregiver is uncomfortable with, they don’t bear the burden of making that first phone call. Then, we do ongoing surveys and reviews to check in throughout the case.

Handling Concerns and Managing Behavior Problems

If a client is speaking or acting out inappropriately toward a caregiver, the home care company must take action. The #Metoo Movement has exposed how often complaints have not been taken seriously. When working with elders in particular, caregivers may feel awkward about bringing forward their complaints. Family members and management may have avoided dealing with such issues in the past due to taboos of sexuality in the elderly. Or, they may have dismissed the concerns. Caregivers may have been told: “Oh, he’s a harmless old man.” or “He doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

At EasyLiving, we take any complaints or concerns seriously and immediately address them. We work together as a team (caregiver, management, care providers, family) to find solutions. Our care managers have extensive expertise in dealing with a wide range of behavior problems. The solutions/resolution will be dependent on the case. Unfortunately, in many cases, no one has ever talked to the perpetrator about the behavior or set boundaries. So, this is often step one. Together, we can create a plan, monitoring, and consequences. Some clients may need alternative placement or other arrangements. But, we will never put our caregivers in harm’s way or dismiss their concerns. We also follow a specific incident and reporting protocol.

Sexually Inappropriate Behavior and Dementia

Dementias such as Alzheimer’s Disease can cause inappropriate behaviors. These range from agitation and wandering to disrobing, masturbating in public or inappropriate touching. I worked in a nursing home where we dealt with many such situations. I remember one horrified son coming to me to describe how his mother made sexual advances toward him (he looked a lot like his father) and a male caregiver. We wrote many care plans for residents who had begun undressing in the dining room or hallways.

Fortunately, many members of our team have experience and success dealing with such behaviors. Our care managers know resources, such as special clothing that makes disrobing difficult. Often with dementia, any behavior is a sign of some discomfort, trigger or need. (To learn more about dementia behaviors and get our experts’ tips for managing these issues, Click Here.)

We can assess what is going on, get a medical review, bring in specialists for evaluation, and address the underlying issues. Additionally, we provide dementia care training for all our staff. Our caregivers come prepared with an understanding of dementia, communicating with those with cognitive deficits, and preventing and managing various behaviors.

Need an assessment of your loved one? Concerned about behavior issues or want to be sure they get the top quality care? Contact us anytime at 727-447-5845 or 813-333-5020.

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