Ahead of International Nurses Day on May 12, we tip our hats to nursing attendants who without technically being nurses still offer care and support to families
It is afternoon and Sajini MT has two hours of downtime on her job as a nursing attendant at Kottayam, Kerala. This is when the person she takes care of gets her nap. “She is an elderly woman and is just recovering from surgery after a fall last month. I bathed her this morning. Once she wakes up, I will help her do some light exercises,” she says. Sajini has been in this profession for the past 15 years and has cared for more than 45 people so far. “It usually takes a few days for me to adjust to the family and vice-versa,” she says.
The role and training
Nursing attendants providing primary care at home play an important role in the health sector. They care for people who are bed-ridden and those who have age-related problems, especially with mobility. If the person is admitted in hospital, the attendant can accompany them.
“They are trained paramedics. One can undergo skill development courses like General Duty Assistant (GDA) and Bed Side Assistant (BDA) approved by the Government to be an attendant.Both these courses are for a duration of three months, but these are not mandatory qualifications for the role,” says Vaibhav Tewari, COO of Portea Medical, a home healthcare company that functions in 21 cities across the country. The company has 2,000 nursing attendants working with them and they are provided with a 15-day training session when they join the firm.
How nursing attendants are different from nurses
- “Nursing attendants provide care and cannot perform any medical procedures like vaccination. Such medical interventions can be done only by a qualified nurse. An attendant also has to look out for any changes in the condition of the person and alert the family or nurse. A qualified nurse can earn almost twice that of a nursing attendant. But it varies according to the organisation that they work in, their responsibilities and their experience,” says Dr Rahul Padmanabhan, a Coimbatore-based consultant in geriatrics and gerontology, and medical director of Dr Rahul’s Elder Care, which offers a month-long training programme for attendants he hires.
Hyderabad-based Life Circle Health Services hires attendants who have completed the GDA or Home Health Aide Certification courses. “The Health Aide certification course is for three months. For those who have not done these courses, we provide them with a three-month training that equips them,” says Priya Anant, director of the firm. The company functions in five cities — Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Delhi-NCR, Chandigarh and Guwahati — and has about 500 nursing attendants working with them. “We also have a qualified nurse assigned for every 30 attendants to constantly train them to meet the changing needs of their patients,” she says.
For some agencies like Life Circle Health Services, the focus is on geriatric care. Attendants are responsible for not just providing medication and checking vitals of elderly people, but also bathing and grooming them, cooking food for them and cleaning their room. The cost of hiring an attendant depends on the city and the kind of work that they are assigned to do. “It can vary from ₹600 to ₹800 for a day,” says Priya.
Another area of speciality is child and mother care. It is the primary focus for Delhi-NCR-based Medfind’s 100 attendants, who offer 12-hour and 24-hour service. “We have nurses who train the attendants. Our attendants are all GDA certified,” says Dr Aashna Treohan Kapoor, co-founder of the company. The attendants also undergo skill enhancement training once in four months.
Sajini says that she learnt the basics of caring from a relative who worked as a nurse in a hospital. “I think the most important thing for an attendant is patience and the right attitude,” she says.
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Sucharita Sarkar who works as an attendant in Kolkata with Portea has completed the BDA certification programme. Her working hours are dependent on the requirement of her patient. “If the patient requires round-the-clock attention, I live with them. Otherwise, I spend the day with them and return home at night.” She has been working with an elderly man in Bengaluru for the past one week. “I check his vitals, feed him, and help him move around the house.”
The impact that such a service has on the family members is tremendous. Bindu Alex from Kochi, Kerala, who works in a private firm, had an attendant to take care of her bedridden mother. “I did not have the physical strength or the expertise to look after her. I was constantly worried about her health when I was away,” Bindu recollects.
She hired the nursing attendant through a local private agency. “The attendant helped my mother move on her bed to avoid bedsores, bathed her, and kept her company. She even used to read my mother her favourite books. They bonded well until my mother passed away last year.”