Up From the Bedside: A Co-op for Home Care Workers

As hospital care has become prohibitively expensive, home health care has swelled into a $7 billion industry, generating a wave of corporate investment. Growth has been so rapid that the industry has even attracted interest from foreign companies. Yet the field also has spawned alternatives to the dominant corporate model, including cooperatives that aim to provide economic opportunity to the poor as well as personal care to the infirm.

Traditionally, of course, home care was the responsibility of a family member. If none could do the job, the family brought in a visiting nurse or an aide from a local agency, which was typically run under charitable and religious auspices. The character of home care, however, has changed enormously. The industry has not only burgeoned in size. It has also become more technical, as much of the growth has come from the shift of complex medical services from the hospital and clinic to the home. But there is still a “low-tech, high touch” end to the business, since many of the elderly mainly need help with physical functions to stay out of hospitals and nursing homes. Home care workers who provide that support are less than nurses but more than maids: they help around the house but also assist with rehabilitative exercises, giving medicines, monitoring the client’s condition, and the like.

The American Prospect