Katrice Turner (center) accepts the 2022 HCAOA Caregiver of the Year award.

Katrice Turner was not intent on following her mother’s footsteps into home care. But after being let go from a clerical administration job in 2009, she took some temporary work as a caregiver with the home care agency that employed her mother. Little did she know that Mother knew best. 

“It’s not something I actually planned on doing. It just kind of happened that way. My mom, she knew that,” Turner, told McKnight’s Home Care Daily Pulse. “She knew the qualities that I had, and she told me, ‘you’ll be fine, trust me.’”

Thirteen years later, Turner is still working in home care. Most recently, her work has earned her the Home Care Association of America’s 2022 Caregiver of the Year

At a time when there are not enough home care caregivers, “it is remarkably inspiring to recognize someone who is not only committed to providing care to those who need it in their homes, but also someone who has grown and evolved with the same agency for more than 10 years,” Vicki Hoak, HCAOA CEO, said in a statement. 

Turner has worked as a caregiver for Absolute Companion Care in Monkton, MD, since 2009. Having worked with the same elderly client for more than 12 years, she knows a few tricks of the trade. Sometimes it’s as straightforward as making sure her client receives yearly anniversary flowers from her husband.

“Routine is so important, because [patients] know what to expect. If that routine breaks, you can figure out the frustration or where the problem is,” Turner said. “However, sometimes routine doesn’t always work, either. So it’s a matter of finding a way to communicate with them and I feel like I’ve done a really good job with that.”

Workforce shortage 

Turner is one of 2.4 million home care aides in the United States today. But there still remain at least 1 million vacancies, Hoak noted. 

“America is growing old,” she said. “Especially since the pandemic, a lot of people have changed their minds about where they hope to live as they grow older. Many of them thought they will just go into an assisted living or nursing home. But because of COVID and the number of deaths that were in nursing homes, I think everyone is rethinking that. So there’s this flood of increased demand. And we don’t have people like Katrice to take care of these people. Over the course of the last six months, agencies are turning away an average of 30 to 40. Where are these families going when they can’t get help?”

Part of the problem in the industry has been subpar pay and benefits. Turner, a working mother, noted that she went as long as eight years without a paid vacation and relied on healthcare benefits from her husband’s job. 

“It needs to be a little bit more affordable because it’s such a crazy thing that we’re working in the healthcare field but can’t afford healthcare,” she said. “This job can be physically demanding, but it can also be more mental than anything. And you need a chance to, to just step away so you can come back refreshed.”

Hoak and HCAOA are working to improve lines of communication so caregivers are able to more clearly express their needs. The establishment of a Caregiver Advisory Council helps to give caregivers like Turner a voice and elevate the role. 

“Katrice also represents this benefit that is a career path. She started out as a companion and now she’s home care-certified and a team leader,” Hoak said. “I’m hoping that one of the reasons why she has stayed with this agency is because they value her. So just having her as the Caregiver of the Year, we can point to her when we talk to congressmen and state legislators and say, ‘This is what the industry needs to do. These are the kinds of individuals we need to retain.’” 

More than caregiver expertise

Expertise alone can take you far in many jobs. But according to Turner, being a caregiver is about more than being an expert.

“Your moral compass is very important,” she said. “This is the field where you do the right thing when no one is looking. So sometimes it’s hard to give recognition to caregivers, because there may not be someone to even see those good deeds. But they’re doing it and they continue to do it. So when there is an opportunity to recognize that, it is important to recognize that.”

Editor’s note: Home Sweet Home is a feature appearing Mondays in McKnight’s Home Care Daily Pulse. The story focuses on a heartwarming, entertaining or quirky happening affecting the world of home care. If you have a topic that might be worthy of the spotlight in Home Sweet Home, please email Liza Berger at [email protected].