Here’s an question that most healthy, able-bodied people have probably never spent much time considering: How much should the people who help others to get dressed, shower and use the toilet get paid?
According to the present-day “genius of the market,” the answer is: “not much.” Home care workers in our society – many of them women and people of color, of course — are pretty much treated as a disposable commodity. Pay is low, benefits are minimal to non-existent, hours can be long and challenging and the work is frequently difficult. The results of this situation are predictable: the quality of care provided is frequently uneven and turnover in the profession is high.
In the coming weeks and months, The Progressive Pulse will feature a series of posts by folks directly affected by this hard and often absurd reality. It is our hope that by shining a light on some of these real life stories, we can begin to inspire the public and policymakers to bring the issue out into the light. We welcome constructive comments, suggestions and contributions.
The first story comes from a Winston-Salem mother and grandmother named Mary Bartholomew.
Better wages crucial for home care workers – and for those in need of care
By Mary Bartholomew
I am a breast cancer survivor with a number of other ongoing health problems, including chronic lung disease. I have been assessed as fully disabled since 1986, and like many seniors I live on a fixed income. Having COPD leaves me with no energy and makes physical tasks difficult, so it’s very important to me to have home care assistance. I am granted 20 hours of home care help through a provider agency. My current caregiver has been wonderful, but she too is moving on and now it’s up to me to find someone new to help.
The trouble is that provider agencies only pay home care workers $9 an hour. It’s very challenging to find someone qualified who is willing to work for that wage and for such limited hours. Those who do take the jobs are struggling to support their own families and eventually have to move on to another line of work. When you add it all up, this means I have a hard time finding a consistent caregiver, and sometimes have no help at all when I most critically need it.
I want to stay in my home. It is far more comfortable and far less expensive for me to stay here than to move to a nursing home. My daughter has two very active teenage sons, and I want them to be able to visit me and spend time with me at home. However, in order to stay I need more consistent care. I’m fortunate to have a provider agency that cares about my needs, but they can only do as much as the law mandates. One of the best ways to improve the quality and consistency of home care is to improve caregiver wages. It’s time to fix this problem so that people needing home care – and those providing it – can live out their lives with dignity.