A few years ago, I wrote about how we completely underestimate home helpers. I don’t think much has changed since then in terms of their perception of their value, but what has changed is their real value to us. This also includes helpers working in care facilities.
We are still in the midst of a global pandemic in which much of the illness and death has occurred among healthcare professionals – doctors, nurses, aides and non-medical support staff.
Here, I distinguish between nursing aides and other nursing aides because of the unique position they occupy in the medical food chain. Nurses make a good living and have a variety of career options available to them. Doctors are also doing very well with these measures. At the bottom of that hierarchy are these helpers, who are largely on the same front lines, but without the same recognition, salaries and support.
The pandemic has highlighted the problem. We expect nursing aides and home health aides to show up for work even when the risk of getting infected and dying from COVID-19 has made their jobs kind of crap. Help, whether for home or establishment visits, earn between $ 25,000 and $ 35,000 per year if they work full time, and increase the state minimum wage are a step in the right direction. Despite this, many helpers still need public assistance to pay their bills. Many also have little health insurance.
Part of the why we underestimate these aids is because they are usually associated with the dirty work of medicine. They empty bedpans and change soiled sheets, turn and lift patients, and encounter and clean up all kinds of mess the human body can do. While many of us won’t admit it, we assume that anyone who does such a job can’t do much better on the job ladder. It is certainly not a job we would choose, most of us think. So we underestimate the work.
Yet for all of this we want to call them frontline heroes, and so they are – especially when the job carries a reasonable risk of dying.
But more than doing the “dirty work”, these helpers are often the first person our loved ones see in the morning when they wake up and the last they see before falling asleep. When the pandemic struck, at least initially with its extreme restrictions on visitors, helpers were among the few people these patients could interact with in person, except for doctors and nurses.
What price are we prepared to put on camaraderie or human warmth and contact? Is it interesting to note that the nursing assistant position is almost always occupied by women, and often by black or brunette women? Could that be part of the reason why he is not being valued or paid appropriately? This is what I presume.
It’s not that gender, race, and ethnicity should be part of every discussion; it’s just that those factors are already there. Other systemic issues, such as poor schools, unequal justice system, lack of access to credit, abusive lending practices, etc. – including low expectations – explain why so many of these assistants are minority women. This position is the rung of the ladder that is accessible to them.
In my previous column on this topic, I mentioned that nursing assistants are some of the most difficult, deepest and most intimate times in the lives of their patients. With coronavirus closures limiting family’s ability to visit loved ones in hospitals or nursing homes, how much more valuable is the compassion and companionship of these helpers? This pandemic has clearly demonstrated their value, like that of doctors and nurses. We would do well to recognize this value with a little more respect and better pay.
Albert B. Kelly is mayor of Bridgeton. Contact him by phone at 856-455-3230 Ext. 200.
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