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Kindness First: Home Health Aide Training Institute CEO Maria Santiago on Why Aides Need More Empathy

When Home Health Aide Training Institute (HHATI) CEO and Director Maria Santiago set out to found her first healthcare training school after two and a half decades in the industry, she based its core values on her own personal mission — to be kind, provide care, and follow her destined path.

“I started from a basic question when creating my business plan: ‘If it was the end of a patient’s life, how can we make it best for them?’” she shared. The answer: pairing kindness with care, empathy with professionalism, and strength with softness.

The curriculum they teach today — six years after they opened their doors — remains rooted in kindness. They have trained 3,000 students to lead their care with the compassion that will help patients get through the darkest days with dignity, respect, empathy, and skillful medical care.

“I train my students to ensure that their patient is properly cared for in all aspects, both physical and emotional,” Santiago said. And it appears to be working. The popular CEO was a recent recipient of the Presidential Tribute of Excellence Award for a lifetime of achievement in caring in the community from U.S. President Joe Biden, who noted that recipients need to reach their achievements with pride and joy in helping others.

When given the award, she was noted as offering some of the best education courses in healthcare in the nation. One of the qualifiers for the national award is that recipients have to have joy and pride in helping others.

“I always knew that something in the medical field was my calling. Not a doctor, per se, but a nurse or aide. I’ve always loved caring for people,” said the CEO.

Below, Santiago delves into the three top values of her institute, why they are important to the entire industry, and how they play out in her curriculum.

Kindness is Key

The Founder is a true believer that kindness is the key to success in her field. “We are here to care for the community, wherever we are, and want our students to live by this when they go out into the field,” she said.

She shared that one of the reasons for the lack of kindness in the industry is that aides are not fully engaged in their work. They are burned out, overtired, or suffering from compassion fatigue from being close to many sad stories every day.

“One of the reasons I think aides aren’t always kind is because they are really not doing their job of choice. They’re either using aide work to get financially secure in their lives, or they are just burnt out,” said Santiago.

Hard Work with Heart

Hard work is another key component of the education offered at HHATI. The training is hard, and the work in the field can be even more demanding, requiring ongoing changes to patients’ health and condition, difficult physical work such as moving patients and bathing them, monitoring their mental state, and responding with compassion and empathy.

“Being a home healthcare aide is not for the faint of heart. We are helping people to get through the most difficult times in their lives. We give 100% effort to training our future home healthcare aides to work hard but never forget the kindness that needs to be at the core of the care,” said Santiago.

To counteract the difficulty of the job, Santiago advises her students to make sure they remember to take time for their own health and self-care.

“Sometimes aides are great for a while, but they get burnt out because they neglect to care for themselves. They pass that empty vessel feeling on to the clients they’re caring for, too,” said the CEO.

Leading by Example

Santiago knows that her students are a product of her and the school, so they do their best to show compassion every day and hope that the students will follow in their teachers’ footsteps.

“The reason why I wanted to have an institute is to share an understanding of how to care. I feel that students come to our school with heart, but I teach them how to care for people. Going into this profession with your heart is important,” said Santiago.

She knows that professional care and techniques can be taught, but being able to lead with your heart every day — even when you’re exhausted and overworked — has to come from within.

About Maria Santiago

Maria Santiago is the CEO and Director of Home Health Aide Training Institute (, which trains certified nursing assistants and-certified home health aides. She recently won the Presidential Tribute of Excellence Award and her team has taught over 3,000 students to date. For more information about getting involved in home healthcare, please visit