Navigating Home Care During the Pandemic

Recruiting aides who won’t decamp for fast-food jobs will require employers to offer higher wages and benefits like paid sick leave, perhaps through full-time positions.

Aides will also need more education — “a huge issue for this work force even before Covid,” said Dr. Madhuri Reddy, a geriatrician with Hebrew SeniorLife in Boston and a co-founder of a tech company that trains home care aides.

With no federal standards for training or licensing aides, home care operates under a hodgepodge of state requirements — or lack thereof. Thirty-five states set no requirements for home care aides, Dr. Reddy said.

“We license people who cut our hair, but not the people who care for our moms?” Ms. Hoak said. Greater professionalization could promote workers’ stature, their income and their ability to care for elderly and disabled clients.

“We don’t get the respect and help that doctors and nurses do, but we’re on the front lines, too,” said Jennifer Washington, who cares for three clients in their 60s in Oakland, Calif. (One is her mother, as California’s Medicaid-supported state program permits.)

Early in the pandemic, Ms. Washington, 43, a home care worker for 20 years and an SEIU Local 215 member, stayed home for a couple of days. Although diabetes and kidney disease increased her own vulnerability to the virus, she worried more about infecting her mother or carrying illness home to her two children.

But her clients, virtually housebound, weren’t exposed to others, she reasoned. And without her assistance with showering, grocery shopping, banking, laundry, meals and simple companionship, they would be alone; their already fragile health might suffer. “They’re kind of like family now,” she said.

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