Years ago, Helen Adeosun dreaded walking into older adults’ homes and not knowing what to do. As a newly-minted caregiver, Adeosun had to rely on YouTube videos, books and family members who were nurses to learn the basics. She learned the rest on the job—a process she calls “trial by fire.”
“It’s a lot of piecemealing your knowledge and experience,” says Adeosun, who worked as a nonmedical private duty caregiver through college and graduate school. “If you’ve been a nurse you’re fortunate. But if you’re like me, with no formal clinical background, I was learning as I went along.”
Eldercare will become increasingly crucial as the baby boomer generation ages. Each day, 10,000 Americans turn 65, joining the 48 million adults age 65 or older, according to NIH’s National Institute on Aging. An AARP survey in 2010 showed that 90% of older adults wanted to age in homes, not hospitals.
There are two types of caregivers: skilled and unskilled. Or, as CareAcademy prefers to put it, medical and nonmedical. Medical caregivers, such as home health aides and certified nursing assistants, are required by federal law to complete training and become licensed. Nonmedical caregivers, such as personal care assistants, do not face these requirements.
“Caregiving is broken and very fragmented,” says Adeosun. “It’s a system that doesn’t account for the true value of caregivers—what she knows, what she’s experienced, and also her ability to care.”
While at Harvard for her Master’s in Education, Adeosun began to wonder if technology could help increase access to caregiving education. That led to an idea: online training for caregivers that could be accessed anytime, anywhere. Adeosun launched CareAcademy in 2013. Co-founder Madhuri Reddy, physician specializing in geriatrics and professor at Harvard Medical School, joined the company in 2015.
CareAcademy offers 40 classes, covering topics ranging from transporting older adults to communicating with older adults and understanding clients’ rights. Caregivers can take classes on their smartphones or computers. The average completion rate for coursework is 52% among a clientele of 49 home care agencies across the country.
CareAcademy seeks not only to educate caregivers, but also to help them earn recognition for their skills and stand out in a competitive job market. Caregivers receive certificates when they complete each course and can progress from the beginner to intermediate and advanced levels.
“It excites me from a workforce perspective,” says Reddy. “Caregivers don’t want just a job. They want to have a real profession where they can take it to the next level. They want to have a career ladder.”
CareAcademy is gaining traction. Its seed funding round is closing at $1.5 million, with New York-based VC firm Rethink Education as lead investor. It pitched to investors at Google’s Demo Day on June 8. It’s also one of 13 companies in the Techstars accelerator program.
By the end of the year, CareAcademy wants to add 40 classes, expand to 40 states and train thousands more caregivers. It remains to be seen how effective the company will be in the long run, but Adeosun has her sights set on improving caregiving education.
“For older adults, that connection matters,” she says. “The feeling of not being belittled, neglected or condescended to—feeling like you are a whole person. We want someone who treats older adults with that level of respect.”
Amy Pollard is a candidate for the MA in Communication and International Relations at Boston University. Her interest in health care began with her first trip to Tanzania, where she volunteered at a medical dispensary in a rural village and saw firsthand how access to health care impacts patients. She’s excited to learn about health care technology in Boston. She’s originally from Seattle and holds a B.A. in English from Saint Martin’s University. When she’s not writing, she’s probably drinking coffee, making tacos or watching Parks and Rec. Follow her @amyannexu.
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