Most Home Health Aides ‘Can’t Afford Not to Work’ — Even When Lacking PPE

October 20, 2020 by Christen Aldrich

Filed under COVID-19 for Employers, COVID-19 for the Workforce

Last modified October 21, 2020

Home health aides have supported the U.S. health care system during the pandemic by keeping the most vulnerable patients — seniors, the disabled, the infirm — out of hospitals. Yet even as they’ve put themselves at risk, according to this article from Kaiser Health News, the home health aide workforce of 2.3 million has been largely overlooked.

During this pandemic, home health providers have scavenged for their own face masks and other protective equipment, created their own disinfectant, and assembled sanitizing wipes amid the widespread shortages. They’ve often done it all on poverty wages, without overtime pay, hazard pay, sick leave, or health insurance. And sadly, many have gotten sick and died, leaving very little to their survivors.

Speaking out about their work conditions has triggered retaliation by employers, according to representatives of the Service Employees International Union in Massachusetts, California, and Virginia. “It’s been shocking, egregious and unethical,” said David Broder, president of SEIU Virginia 512. Every worker who spoke with KHN for this article said they felt intimidated by the idea of voicing their concerns. All have seen colleagues fired for doing the same thing. They agreed to talk openly about their work environments on the condition their full names not be used.

Caregivers like Samira, in Richmond, Virginia, have little choice but to work. Samira — who makes $8.25 an hour with one client and $9.44 an hour with another, and owes tens of thousands of dollars in hospital bills from previous work injuries — has no other option but to risk getting sick.

“I can’t afford not to work. And my clients, they don’t have anybody but me,” she said. “So I just pray every day I don’t get it.”

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