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A bill approved Wednesday would set minimum training standards for home health agencies who work with patients with Alzheimer’s disease and symptoms of dementia.

Advocates for the bill told the Senate Health and Welfare Committee that the bill is needed to provide improved care to people receiving it in their homes and to help retain people who work with Alzheimer’s patients.

Senate Bill 61 calls for people who are employed by home health agencies to receive at least six hours of state-approved training within 60 days of being hired, and to receive at least three hours of continuing education annually.

The training programs would be certified by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. The bill contains penalties for home health businesses that don’t meet the training requirements.

Workers would receive a certificate after successfully completing their initial training and that certification would be portable from job to job.

“It’s no secret Alzheimer’s patients are increasing at an alarming rate,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Stephen Meredith, told committee members. Meredith, a Leitchfield Republican, said while the number of patients needing Alzheimer’s or dementia care has risen, the turnover of home health agency employees who work with those patients is high.

In 2018, turnover for that group of caregivers was 85%, Meredith said. Currently, the turnover rate “exceeds 60%,” he said.

If workers don’t receive adequate training on how to work with Alzheimer’s patients, the result is “work dissatisfaction and work stress,” Meredith said.

The hope is that home health workers getting specific training on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia will keep them in the profession and will help them advance in their careers, he said.

Mackenzie Longoria, public policy director for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Greater Kentucky and Southern Indiana Chapter, said the bill addresses people who provide direct health services and those who work as personal aides doing non-medical tasks.

The majority of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients would prefer to stay in their homes with aid rather than living in a facility, Longoria said. Keeping a person in their home for as long as possible is the most cost-effective option, she said.

“The problem is the workforce has been lagging” in adequate training, she said. Personal service workers performing non-medical tasks “is a wholly unregulated part of the workforce.”

Inadequate training for home health and personal aides puts clients at risk and also created hazards for workers, Longoria said.

“Home health aides make up some of the highest percentages of on-the-job injury,” because an aide doesn’t understand the physical and emotional needs of the client, she said.

The bill calls for training to be available either in-person or online, and applies only to agencies that provide home health workers and aides to Alzheimer’s patients, not to individuals hired informally.

“What we are really trying to address are those companies that hold themselves out as Alzheimer’s providers,” Meredith said.

But Longoria said she supports making the training at least available to private individuals who want it.

“I would absolutely love for the training to be available to them,” she said.

The bill next goes to the full Senate for approval.

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