PO Box 413
Milwaukee, WI 53201
This report is based on a participatory research project conducted between June 2003 and December 2004, and the subsequent actions inspired by it through June 2006. Members of Cooperative Care, a worker-owned home care agency, and two academic researchers conducted the research.
The research objectives were to learn: 1) how the cooperative could better support their members physically and emotionally; and 2) how to improve cooperation and communication among members. With the information obtained with this project, caregivers aimed to build a stronger and more unified cooperative.
Equipment. Clients used a broad array of physical devices and equipment to assist them (39 types were reported). For the majority of clients (68%), caregivers felt that they had adequate equipment. For almost a third of clients (32%), caregivers said that additional physical devices or equipment was needed, for either assisting the client or easing their own physical burden.
Emergency Plans. Most caregivers believed that their clients' emergency plans needed updating. Since more than half the clients lived in rural areas, some distance from the nearest hospital, caregivers said that a plan to assist their clients at their homes during an emergency was of particular importance.
Client Well-Being. Due to their frequent visits, caregivers are regularly able to assess the emotional and physical state of the clients. Caregivers noted a broad range of physical, mental, and/or emotional change in clients, and had suggestions for how to improve the well-being of some clients.
Physical Injuries. A minority of cooperative members had experienced physical injuries in their current clients' homes; however, caregivers reported that there was the potential for injuries in almost half of their clients' homes.
Pets. Pets were another potential cause for injury, as well as the cause of general anxiety for some caregivers. About half the clients had pets and about half of those clients had multiple pets.
Emotional Stress. Emotional stress affects caregivers who care for family members differently than those who care for unrelated clients. The major form of stress reported relates to clients' behavior. However, family members were twice as likely to report client behavior as a problem. Cooperative members had their own, individual methods for responding to stress either on or off the job.
Inappropriate Behavior. Slightly over one-third of caregivers described experiences with inappropriate behavior from a client at some point during their career. Inappropriate behaviors included unwanted sexual comments or advances, hair grabbing, scratching, or general "uncomfortable situations."
Cooperative members discussed four ways in which cooperative members, clients, cooperative management and the board of directors could better communicate and cooperate with each other. The suggestions included:
The cooperative members and staff initiated several activities after the participatory research project was completed that greatly improved membership communication and involvement, and addressed other problems identified through the research. Many factors affect changes within organizations and individuals, thus it is difficult to discern to what degree the ongoing activities and initiatives were inspired directly by the research process and its findings. However, at the very least the participatory research project "opened doors" to other activities and processes.
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