There's an easy rapport that home health aides Debbra Kane and Wendy Hayes have — personalities that can easily translate into providing needed support for vulnerable people. 

But retaining good aides like Kane and Hayes have been a challenge in the home health field. So they were among the participants to serve as mentors in a program meant to boost retention in the field amid the challenges of a pandemic and recruitment. The hope is the mentor program will attract more people to this field.

Kane loves her job as a home health aide, something she's done for years, caring for vulnerable people who need support.  

"The biggest reward to me at my job is when I leave my patients and they're happy, they're smiling and I'm making their quality of life much better," she said. 

The mentor program paired a new home health worker with an experienced one to provide guidance and support. The Community Health Care Services Foundation and its New York affiliate helped implement the program stretching from June 2020 to May of this year. 

The program showed results. Agencies that did not have the mentorship program in place had a far higher turnover rate. The program is potentially a vital tool given the projected growth in the need for home health care workers in the coming years. 

"You really need to have that guidance and be able to know that someone is there to support you and be able to call that person and say 'hey listen, I'm having this challenge, I haven't done that, before can you help me?'"  Hayes said. 

It's an important job, helping people who range in age from childhood to 100-plus with needed support in the home. 

"You're there one-on-one with this patient and you really need to know how to handle that patient and be able to take care of that patient," Hayes said. 

Home Health Care Partners Executive Director Karen Clark said retention and recruitment has been a major challenge amid a pandemic that has made job recruitment difficult. The Johnstown, Montgomery County-based organization serves a 10-county region in upstate New York. 

"Where would anyone who received home care during the pandemic, where would they have been without the support of home care coming into the home?" Clark said. 

But Clark also wants policymakers in Albany to know the field needs tangible support to meet the needs of vulnerable people. 

"Once you start to value something, you direct energy to it, instead of away from it," she said. "And you invest in the industry. That's what needs to happen. There has not been enough investment in home care."