The following is excerpted from the May 10, 2012 opening address given by David Lawrence, CEO of Family Resource Home Care and President, Washington Private Duty Association (WAPDA), at the 2012 WAPDA Conference:

When the average person hears the phrase “home care,” what image comes to their mind? How about when they hear the word “caregiver?” What about “Home Care Agency?” I hope they’re positive images featuring patient, skilled, responsible caregivers and their highly professional agencies. But I don’t know. I can only hope.

I do know, however, that the public’s perception of these terms largely did not come from the people it should have come from — it probably didn’t come from you or your colleagues. The public impression of home care, home care agencies, and caregivers may be wonderful. It may have come from a very satisfying experience they had, or a neighbor had. Or the perception may come from something negative they read about concerning a caregiver from a registry accused of elder abuse, or about an unsupervised independent provider who took advantage of a client. Or maybe their impression stems from a story of a family in crisis whose complex needs overwhelmed the good-hearted but unskilled and unsupported caregiver the family hired through Craig’s List.

The public’s perception — their image of what we do — probably did not come from you because, as a profession, we’re new. Family Resource has been around only since 1996, and we’re one of the older ones. But private duty home care is growing by leaps and bounds. In fact, health care, paraprofessional health care, and home care are expected to become one of the leading sources of new jobs in the next 10 years. Our profession only recently came to see the value of speaking in one voice and became organized to do so.

In the coming years, as our agencies and services grow, what we do will increasingly shape the public’s perception of all of us, for good or for bad, and as such affects not only our own future but the whole profession.

If we’re to grow and prosper, not just as individual agencies but as an entire industry, we need to know absolutely that we’re in this together. As Benjamin Franklin put it, “We must hang together or most assuredly we will hang separately.”

Today, and in the future, the understanding the public has of private duty home care will increasingly come from us, because we’re growing and the public is discovering the value of what we do. When someone 5 – 10 years from now thinks of “caregiver” or “home care” they will increasingly think not of someone from Craig’s List — somebody unreliable, a bureaucratic uncaring organization, or a fly-by-night registry — they’ll think of us. And it’s under our control whether the perception the public has will be a positive or negative one.