Opinion | Home Health Care Workers Deserve Hazard Pay During the Pandemic

[MUSIC PLAYING] “I mostly care for people in their homes, people like parents, grandparents —” “This is Nancy. This is my sweetheart.” ”— the most vulnerable population of our society, people who need help going to the bathroom, eating, taking the medications. This is for your bones. This is for your pain. Brendan is paralyzed from the neck down. We do everything for him. All right, so I’ve got to lift you up.” “Yep.” “All right? I work seven days a week, but I love my job. I wouldn’t do anything else. I’ve worked for over 30 years doing this, and I make just over $15 an hour. I live in Massachusetts, and my salary is actually one of the highest in the country. 18 percent of us live below the poverty line. Nationally, we make just over $16,200 a year. And even though I work in health care, I cannot afford health insurance. I avoid going to the doctors. I have medical bills I haven’t paid. My new tattoo is “We’re all in this together,” and it is the world as a heart. Since Covid, the federal government is giving out more than $100 billion of emergency money to hospitals, nursing homes, long-term-care facilities. That’s great, but most of the money isn’t going to people like me. I’m not a materialistic person, and I’m not asking to make a million dollars. I don’t mind doing hard work, but I need to make a living. I need to be able to pay my bills, especially now with coronavirus. Most home givers aren’t receiving hazard pay. I’ve had to pay for a lot of their P.P.E. out of my own pocket. If we are essential workers, we need to be treated like essential workers. I know. I know, right? If I were to go on unemployment and stop working, I would make about the same amount of money, if not more. And then there’s not going to be anybody to take care of these people, and that’s just crazy. It’s a very broken system. These patients are sick, and they need to be cared for.” “This is every innocent person’s nightmare.” “Last Tuesday, Nancy fell. She basically sat on the floor until she was found. I would hate to have her end up in a nursing home or a long-term-care facility, but that’s what’s going to happen if she doesn’t receive the care. I give her a quality of life that she deserves, and I don’t want her to lose that. That’s why I do what I do. If she falls, she loses all of that. [Crying] I’m sorry. You all right? You want to change it? You all right? I love you. Get up. Don’t cry. You’re going to make me cry. Come on. It doesn’t have to be like this. The federal government and the Department of Health and Human Services must require some of the money that is going out for relief to go to the front-line caregivers. States could also use the Medicaid to increase our pay. Some states increased wages for all health workers, including home caregivers. Arkansas is doing it now. Arkansas did prove that it is possible. Even a few dollars more an hour would change our lives and make the health care system more sustainable and safer for our patients. All right, kiddo. But when this is all over in the post-Covid world, the money shouldn’t get taken away. Caregivers will still be needed, and we should be paid a living wage. We need help. And then when I get old, you can take of me, right?” “Oh, yeah.” “This is what I’ve always done. This is what I’ll always do. I’m a caregiver.”