New Mexico Uses DCA Credential to Help Caregivers Prove Skills, Knowledge
While certified nursing assistants and home health aides have to take at least 75 hours of training and pass a certification exam to prove their fitness for the job, there is no federally mandated educational program or credential exam for personal or home care workers. To help fill that gap, Direct Care Alliance (DCA) developed the Personal Care and Support Credential in 2011. The credential measures the eight core areas every caregiver should know in order to perform his/her job at the highest levels, giving workers a way to prove their skills and knowledge and employers a way to evaluate potential caregivers.
In 2012, the New Mexico Direct Caregivers Coalition (NMDCC), www.nmdcc.org, a statewide organization that advocates for caregivers, negotiated a partnership with DCA to administer the credential.
NMDCC approached DCA because New Mexico is projected to experience a rapid growth in demand for home care workers. By 2030, the U.S. Census predicts that New Mexico will have the 4th highest percentage of people over age 65 in the nation. That means we will need more caregivers, both wage-earning direct care workers and unpaid family caregivers. Our direct caregiver workforce will grow from 50,000 in 2010 to more than 60,000 in 2016. Meanwhile, the number of people providing informal or unpaid family care (currently 210,000) will also grow.
DCA’s credential is a much-needed first step in allowing personal and home care workers to demonstrate adherence to a standard of excellence. NMDCC administers the exam and maintains a roster of all applicants, both those who pass and those who do not. Any New Mexico caregiver may apply to take the exam, but those sitting for the test must first pass a background check. NMDCC also offers the test to unpaid family caregivers. So far, we have administered 92 tests.
But the credential alone is not enough. We also need to make training and education available, accessible and affordable. When developing the credential, DCA decided not to develop a training program because states’ regulations concerning home care aides and personal care assistants are so variable. Therefore, NMDCC has developed a training program for New Mexico, in accordance with state regulation, that prepares people for the DCA credential. All participants completing the course earn a Certificate of Completion and are prepared to sit for the credential. “This is an excellent example of how a state organization can prepare home care workers to sit for the credential exam, providing opportunities not only to take the test but also to get the training some need to pass it,” says DCA Executive Director Carla Washington.
In partnership with New Mexico Workforce Connection, the state’s public workforce agency, NMDCC developed and now delivers a Customized Training for Caregivers program to train caregivers and prepare them to sit for the DCA credential. These training seminars are two-day workshops led by a team of employment specialists, registered nurses and home health agency directors. The class is appropriate for direct care workers already working in the field as well as family caregivers seeking additional training.
New ways of supporting the direct care workforce can and should also benefit care recipients, expanding their care options by making it easier for them to evaluate, hire and supervise their caregivers. Partnerships like the one between DCA and NMDCC can help agencies, creating a pipeline of trained, qualified and credentialed workers available to them as employees.