Home care workers need more support | VIEWS OF NEVADA

I was born with cerebral palsy and since my teens have relied on home health aides for all of my daily activities. It’s no exaggeration to say that I couldn’t survive without my home care worker, Darlene. But his work goes beyond simply taking care of my physiological needs. It allows me to live a life full of meaning, creativity and joy.

Although Darlene’s job is absolutely essential, she only gets paid about $12 an hour, and most of our state’s 13,000 homeworkers earn even less. These poverty wages have created an extreme shortage of workers and families are increasingly unable to find the services they need.

That’s why seniors and people with disabilities are sounding the alarm about the need for our state and national elected officials to address this crisis.

Nevada has received millions of dollars in temporary federal funding from the U.S. bailout, and we must immediately put rules in place to ensure those resources actually reach frontline workers. And moving forward, we need to ensure that there is a much greater ongoing investment in home care services.

Darlene, who was a home care worker for 33 years, is everything to me. She is there for me when I wake up in the morning and helps me shower, get dressed, get into my electric wheelchair and eat breakfast. At night, she feeds me and puts me to bed. She has similar tasks for five other clients and often works from 5 a.m. to midnight in order to make ends meet.

Throughout my life, this fundamental support of home health aides has allowed me to flourish and pursue my passion for musical theatre. I’ve acted and directed over a dozen musicals, and I’m in the process of earning a master’s degree in the field as well.

So it makes me outraged that home care workers — who are overwhelmingly women and disproportionately people of color — are exploited and shamefully undervalued for their vital roles.

There are currently more than half a million retirement-age Nevadans, and they are expected to represent 20% of the state’s population by 2030. This has led to a growing demand for services, while as poverty wages pushed workers out of the profession. In a recent survey, 75% of home care workers said they might have to leave the field because the pay is too low.

This crisis may seem overwhelming, but there are concrete solutions at hand. At the state level, Governor Steve Sisolak and the Department of Health and Human Services listened to our concerns and recently provided additional $500 payments to home care workers.

Clients and workers have also participated in the new Home Care Employment Standards Council, and this Council needs to take crucial action immediately. Urgently, there needs to be accountability and clear policies so that the $127 million in US bailout funding goes to workers, not just agency owners. In addition, the council must ensure that workers do not have to pay out of pocket for work-related expenses and that clients get the full number of hours of service needed for our care.

Because US bailout funding is temporary, we also need stable support to create a long-term sustainable home care system. To that end, President Joe Biden has proposed a critical and permanent investment in Medicaid home and community services. His proposal would help raise wages and benefits, expand training opportunities and give workers a better chance to form a union so they can defend their interests and those of their customers. Nevada Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen support the plan.

For the elderly and people with disabilities, it is a matter of life and death. We could not exist without our home care workers. Elected officials must invest in workers to recognize their sacrifices and recruit and retain the workforce we need.

Evan Gadda is a home care client, actor and musical theater director. He writes from Reno.

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