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CHCA Creates Quality Jobs for Home Care Workers

April 19, 2013

Recently, Michael Elsas, the president and CEO of Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA), was explaining different aspects of the company’s culture to an interviewer over the phone. For one thing, he said, CHCA maintained an open-door policy. Any CHCA employee — whether they are a home care worker, a coordinator, or an administrator — can pay Elsas a visit at any time, without an appointment. “In fact,” he told the interviewer, “if a worker comes in the door right now I’m going to ask you to hold on.” 

CHCA, an affiliate of PHI, prides itself on being a worker-friendly company. “Tons of the day-to-day decision-making is centered on what the workers’ needs are,” Elsas said. The Bronx-based agency employs more than 2,200 home care workers who provide care to elders and people with disabilities living in New York City, and has gained a reputation as one of the most progressive home care agencies in the U.S. 

Part of CHCA’s reputation lies in the fact that is the largest worker-owned cooperative in the entire country. But, while an important component of CHCA’s worker-friendly culture, worker ownership is “one of many best practices” employed by CHCA,” Elsas said. 

CHCA’s executive vice president, Adria Powell, agreed. “Worker ownership is a piece of it, but it’s not the magic bullet,” she said. There are other programs in the company that support a worker-friendly environment. 

For example, CHCA’s peer mentor program — which was recently expanded — “has really contributed” to the organization’s overall culture, Powell said. In the home care industry, it is not uncommon for first-time home care workers to struggle during the first few weeks of their employment. At CHCA, new workers are assigned a peer mentor to ease that transition. Peer mentors are available for counseling or advice on a regular basis throughout an employee’s first few weeks on the job, and will even go on client visits with their mentees if requested. “When people start this job, they quickly realize it’s not what they thought it was,” Elsas said. The peer mentors become essential to their adjustment as home care workers. 

CHCA also devotes significant amounts of time, energy, and money to thoroughly training new workers. Trainers teach not only the basic tasks of home care — transfers, taking blood pressure, etc. — but also the all-important “soft skills” that help build personal relationships with clients. The PHI Coaching Approach to Communications is a crucial part of CHCA’s training program. “This job is very much about relationships, and developing relationships with clients — that’s what we teach,” Elsas said. The more prepared home care workers are for their tasks, Elsas continued, the more empowered they feel while in the field, and the deeper the sense of satisfaction they get out of their jobs. 

Other worker supports at CHCA include a guaranteed-hours program. After CHCA workers accrue a certain amount of service time — approximately three years — the organization will guarantee them 30 hours of pay a week, even if they are unable to work those hours for reasons beyond their control. For example, if a CHCA home care worker’s client has to be admitted to the hospital, the company will still pay her for the hours she would have worked. 

Home care workers also have a direct say in the company’s direction through its labor-management committees. These committees are comprised of home care workers, managers, union representatives, and other CHCA staff members, and work together to address various challenges surrounding home care. A health care subcommittee, for example, examines health insurance options for workers, and will work to ensure compliance with the Affordable Care Act in the coming months. A child care subcommittee, meanwhile, looks at the options available for affordable and reliable child care for home care workers while they are in the field. CHCA’s home care workforce includes many single women who are the heads of their households, Powell notes. “They face a lot of barriers and a lot of challenges,” she said. 

Overall, a sense of commitment to workers is palpable throughout the organization. Powell said that spoke recently with an aide who had come from a different home care company. That aide told her, “I wish all companies were like this.” 

“The feeling here is very different,” Powell said. And yet, she said that CHCA’s worker-centered values are so embedded in the company’s culture that she barely notices how different it is anymore. But outside visitors notice, she said — people who visit CHCA are always surprised at how cheerful CHCA’s employees are. 

Elsas, who said that aides are not shy about using the company’s open-door policy, said that one of the words home care workers use most often is “respect.” “Workers are respected here, and listened to,” he said.

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