Caregivers need to be seen & valued for their work

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By Karen Yang, Missouri Jobs with Justice

What do caregivers need most? It’s a question with many answers, but the simplest one is this: to be seen.

This is true for all caregivers, both professional caregivers and unpaid caregivers.

There are 13,000 union home care workers in Missouri who are paid an average of $8.60 an hour for a job that entails physical and emotional strength, as well as specialized skills that friends and family members often cannot muster alone. In addition, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, there are anywhere from half a million to 890,000 unpaid caregivers who care for older adults in this state.

Stories of home care workers, unpaid caregivers, and care receivers reveal that caregivers want to be seen. Home care workers tell stories about a job with two faces: their work is grueling, exhausting, and unglamorous, but their work is also fulfilling, meaningful, and cherished. Valerie Gordon, a home care worker for 13 years, shared that the physical labor involved in providing care can often be tiring. Nonetheless, Valerie speaks with warmth and sincerity when she says, “I feel good that I help my client with cerebral palsy. I feel good that she can rely on me because she doesn’t have anyone else.”

Friends and family who serve as unpaid caregivers view home care workers as a godsend, helping them save on the cost of nursing home care and to restore their sense of normalcy. Sherman George is a 70-year-old retired fire chief and a veteran of the Vietnam War who knows what it means to truly care for others. He says that home care workers are essential for providing two of his brothers with the quality of life they need.

Ever since his mother passed away, Sherman has taken turns with eight of his siblings to care for his two brothers who need help going to the doctor, getting treatment, and completing daily tasks. Sherman and his siblings show his brothers the utmost care, even spending nights at their homes watching over them. Nonetheless, Sherman muses, “I really wish I could express how much of a help it is to have a home care worker. The ones we’ve had show that they really care, and it is really important to us that we have their services available to our brothers.”

Care receivers report that their home care workers truly care about them and serve as partners to help them with daily living, allowing many care receivers to engage more with their communities. Christopher Worth is a young person who receives in-home care because he has a long-term disability. He uses in-home care “not only to enhance living, but also to enhance the community by going to work.” He is proud to pay his in-home care worker a living wage, out of pocket. “The reason why I do this is because I see my in-home care worker as a teammate, as my right-hand woman. Her wage reflects the value that she brings to my life. I want to make a concerted effort to put my money where my mouth is, to put my values into practice,” says Christopher.

Raising the visibility of caregivers is one reason why, on October 7th, 2014, almost two hundred caregivers and their allies gathered for the first-ever Home Care Workers Rising Summit. Caregivers want to be seen and acknowledged for the important work they do.

They rallied in downtown St. Louis for a new collective bargaining contract that would raise union home care workers’ wages without increasing taxes, and ultimately won the tentative agreement for a raise to $10.15 an hour. In addition, the agreement would allow consumers to set the wages for their attendants, rather than relying upon a third-party vendor to do so, making it possible for attendants to receive higher wages due to consumer satisfaction with their work.

Missouri Jobs with Justice invites you to join us in helping caregivers to be seen. Learn the care giving stories of home care workers and unpaid caregivers, as well as the care stories of older adults and those with disabilities. Join organizations like ours in advocating for livable wages for home care workers, for consumers to be able to set wages, and for better job training to retain caring workers in the field. Together, we can help everyone see the value of all caregivers.