As a home care worker for the past 14 years, I’ve taken care of a lot of war vets. One of my current clients is a 100-year old former military pilot and he’ll talk your ear off. We’ve grown close and I want to do everything I can to protect us both from the coronavirus. That’s why I’m raising the alarm that home care workers like me across Colorado do not have the protections we need to safely care for those at highest risk: our state’s parents, grandparents and loved ones with disabilities.
I became a home care worker because I love people and providing the care they need when they have no one else. It touches my heart when I see my clients light up because they realize I’m interested in who they really are, not just their diagnosis. Home care workers comfort people physically, emotionally and spiritually. I’ve held clients while they’ve died in my arms, when they could have otherwise died alone.
I help my clients with all their daily activities of living, including bathing, feeding, taking them to doctor’s appointments, picking up prescriptions, and making sure they take their medications on time. Home care workers are also a line of communication with doctors, nurses, physical therapists and family members.
Despite my crucial role in protecting my clients, I am not being given the resources from government leaders that I need to do my job effectively. I haven’t been able to find any medical masks, so I reached out to a Facebook group called Colorado Crafters for a Cause, and they sent me some hand-sewn cloth masks. I can’t find any hand sanitizer, so I’m going to try to make my own if I can find the ingredients. I also haven’t received any official information about how to protect me and my clients from the spread of the virus.
Equipment and training are critical for home care workers and the people we take care of. Studies have shown that older people and those with chronic medical conditions are much more likely to experience complications from the coronavirus, and have higher mortality rates. Not only am I concerned about my clients being infected, but I also have a seven-year old son at home.
Making matters worse, I have no paid sick days at all and no health insurance. I don’t know how I would even get tested for COVID-19, let alone how I would pay for medical care if I fell ill. Of course, if I started having symptoms I would stay home so I wouldn’t expose my clients. But I worry about who would take my place to ensure my clients get the care they need, and how I would be able protect and provide for my child.
Even before this crisis, we were living on the edge. Colorado’s cost of living has skyrocketed, but I make just $1,200 a month after taxes. Every month I must choose whether to pay for my car loan, rent, food or utilities.
It has always been shameful how home care work is devalued, but now President Donald Trump’s delay in providing protective equipment for caregivers is undermining our country’s ability to respond to the pandemic. These concerns have led me to get even more involved in Colorado Care Workers United, a movement of caregivers who advocate for quality medical services and good jobs. Together with our affiliate organization the Service Employees International Union, we have been calling on employers and the Trump administration to implement urgent protections for all healthcare workers.
To solve this crisis, we cannot just bail out big corporations. We need to protect public health by ensuring working Americans receive the greatest share of relief efforts. We must have paid sick days if we are ill or have to care for a family member, protective equipment, access to testing, and infection control training for all caregivers.
My 100-year old client put his life on the line for our country. Now, home care workers are doing the same, putting our lives and livelihoods at risk to defend the health of our communities. It’s time for the Trump administration to show their patriotism by immediately implementing protections for caregivers and all working people, so that we have the strength to survive this national emergency.
Scarlett Markus is a home care worker and mother in Colorado Springs.