Opinion: Home care workers need more than $9 an hour

By Ethel Ayo

As a home health care worker, I help my eight clients with Alzheimer’s and dementia with all kinds of daily living tasks, from walking and bathing to cooking and cleaning. I love my work because I truly care about my clients’ health and well being. It is absolutely critical that our seniors and people with disabilities deserve to have quality, professional home health care that allows them to live at home with independence and dignity.

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So many home care workers are hard-working people who find purpose in caring for their clients, but employers provide minimal training and very low pay, leading many to qualify for public assistance. This leads to high turnover rates, a result that puts patient care at risk.

I had the honor to join 50 of my fellow home care workers from around the state in Washington, D.C. to advocate for quality care for patients and improved investment in a sustainable, long-term care workforce. Five home health providers from Colorado went to Capitol Hill to meet with Sen. Michael Bennet, Rep. Diana DeGette, Rep. Jared Polis and Rep. Ed Perlmutter to tell the stories of those caring for our aging population and highlight how important we are in meeting the need for care, especially in our state.

I wanted them to hear how important the work we do is and how much we enjoy doing it. I also wanted them to know and be reminded of how much the cost of living has increased and how I can barely earn a living for myself and my family. Our starting pay is between $9 and $10 per hour – so many of us can’t afford to pay rent, buy food, have a car for work and seek medical care when we’re sick. It pains me to say I work in health care and I can’t even afford health insurance for myself, much less my family.

We went to D.C. to ask members of Congress for their support. I asked them to support us in our fight for a wage of $15 an hour and to make sure home care is a job that people can afford to do without severe hardship for themselves and their families. No home care worker should have to choose between caring for consumers or having to leave to find another job that pays better and that actually provides benefits.

We are working for a win for workers who will get more training and better pay, and a win for seniors and people with disabilities who will get the quality care they deserve. I hope our trip to D.C. helped lawmakers see how important this is for people here in Colorado so we work on creating the long-term home care workforce we need.

Ehtel Ayo is a home care worker who recently traveled to Washington, D.C. for the White House Conference on Aging.

Opinions expressed in Health News Colorado represent the views of the individual authors.

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