Who comes to mind when you think of frontline workers during this Covid-19 pandemic? I did a small survey and found out that none of the answers I was getting included caregivers. Doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, waste management employees.... the list went on and on. Disclaimer - all these people have earned and deserve our undying and unwavering gratitude for putting their lives on the line to make sure that we are all taken care of. I am in no way, shape or form minimizing their contribution to our well being especially taking into consideration the sacrifices they are making - not only as parents, siblings, spouses and friends - but also as individuals.
This presents a learning moment to us as a society, as individuals, and as decision makers in the healthcare industry to recognize caregivers as an instrumental part of our healthcare system. Caregivers are the glue that’s holding our home health care system together. They have been since time immemorial, but this is now coming to light since the most vulnerable demographic during this Covid-19 pandemic is the elderly population. The entire elder care system is under scrutiny, and rightfully so, especially with so many long term facilities getting outbreaks in the recent days.
Family caregivers are rarely recognized in their day to day roles. After all, you’re taking care of a family member. It is a societal norm expectation - what’s so hard about helping out a relative? Another phrase that pops up often in this scenario is that it is an emotionally rewarding task so they’re ok with it. I admit that I was in this school of thought for a long time. Being originally from Kenya, we take care of our family members at home. The elders, and anyone else with any special needs. The children are expected to do it without question - if it wasn’t for your parents, where would you be? The ones who’re starting to now place their parents in the few available retirement homes are judged and ostracized - but that’s a topic for another day.
Paid caregivers, on the other hand, get an even shorter end of the stick. Many of them are women of color and/or from disadvantaged communities, are minimally paid, have minimal education and no upward mobility. They work long hours, and because of the minimal pay, most work multiple jobs to make ends meet. This is one of the issues that’s a leading concern in the spread of Covid-19 among retirement facilities because caregivers move from one facility to the next and if one gets infected, then it creates a domino effect with time and containing the disease becomes an almost impossible undertaking. PPE provision has become a conversation around hospitals but what about those caregivers in home health? They’re risking their lives as well! We need to protect those that they’re taking care of!
Most of the bedside care is done by the caregivers. Bathroom assistance, dressing, feeding, showers/bed baths etc. They do the heavy lifting (literally and figuratively) and it is only fair and just for them to be compensated accordingly. The dire shortage of caregivers that is being experienced all around the country can be mitigated by compensating them commensurate to their duties so as to make it more attractive to others who would want to join in the career. Since most of the caregivers are from low income/disadvantaged communities, the costs associated with certifications should be scrapped or subsidized so that more people can get the mandatory certifications.
This in turn will also boost employment rates while solving a looming shortage of caregivers post this Covid-19 pandemic, especially since 10,000 people are turning 65years old everyday. We need to invest more into caregiver training - teaching the caregivers on signs and symptoms of certain common illnesses in their fields so as to have early intervention especially in common illnesses in geriatrics such as UTI’s, strokes and heart attacks. Caregiving is not one dimensional on just physical care provision. Caregivers are the bridge between the doctors and their patients. They know their clients preferences, behaviors and norms and if this was taken into consideration and their input sourced by their clients healthcare providers, it could improve the overall health and wellness of those they take care of.
The most effective action, while solving the issues raised above, is changing the perception of caregivers and caregiving in general among our population. My clarion call to all is to respect and dignify the craft. I’ll be the first to admit that some of the tasks involved in caregiving are not pleasant. However, they only make up a small part of the experience. There are many moments that bring me utter joy and satisfaction in being a caregiver. I chose to be a caregiver - a privilege that I do not take lightly. I know that there are many who didn’t have the choice, but they still do it with dedication and fervor.
Caregiving is a calling. It is sacrifice. Many spend their days sharing themselves with others, then go home to their families and share themselves some more. Caregiving is taxing. Emotionally, psychologically and physically. There are studies that show that caregivers are at a high risk for depression. They get attached to the people they take care of but when those people pass away, how do they grieve? They take care of everyone else - who takes care of them?
Today, I challenge you to reach out to a caregiver. Whether family or formal caregivers. CNA, GNA, HHA, or whatever title they go by. Let them know you appreciate what they do on a daily basis. Let them know that they are valued and appreciated. Listen to them. How can you make their day just a tad bit less stressful? Are the caregivers taking care of your loved ones well protected and supplied with PPE? Lastly, when all this comes to pass, add your voice to theirs to demand for better compensation and working conditions. This can determine how the trajectory of the home health system goes in the coming years. Who knows - maybe what you do today and in the coming days will determines how you get care and what kind of care you get when your time comes.
As always, love and light to you and yours. Wishing all of you safety, provision and good health as we each do our part to fight this pandemic.
When you are a caregiver, you know that every day you will touch a life or a life will touch yours — Unknown