“We Are the Front Line Right at Home”

July 14, 2020

Homecare workers and PCAs fight for protections in COVID-19 crisis.

RightAtHome.jpgA lot of people may not recognize Suzette Roberts as a hero. She doesn’t wear scrubs or a stethoscope. There haven’t been vivid images of her and her co-workers struggling through hospital hallways. But she is a hero, nevertheless.

There are more than 2 million home care workers in the United States. 1199SEIU represents the tens of thousands of home health aides (HHA) personal care attendants (PCA), and Consumer Directed Personal Assitance (CDPAP) workers who every day provide home health care to the elderly and disabled.

The homecare workers have been vocal participants in 1199’s Fund the Front Lines campaign, in which thousands of 1199ers flooded Congress’s phone lines, inboxes, and offices with petitions demanding resources, protections, compensation, and equipment for essential workers.

In late May, 1199SEIU President George Gresham and a host of allies and agency leaders sent a letter to Congressional leaders demanding population while also reducing the risk of continued spread to essential workers an their communities.”

“When the COVID-19 outbreak first happened, I was so scared. I feared the unknown,” says Roberts. “But I have two clients who needed me. I have bills to pay, so just like all other home care workers. I continued to go to work, day after day.”

As providers of in-home care, HHAs and PCAs often faced fearful clients who were worried about workers bringing the virus into their homes.

Some were turned away. In other cases, they implemented additional safety precautions to protect themselves and their clients. Some workers sprayed down doorknobs and other with bleach solutions; others reported wearing Tyvek suits they purchased on their own.

In New York City, many agencies did their best to provide PPE to workers, but workers were fearful of making the trip to central offices to pick up supplies. 1199SEIU filled the gap with regular drop-offs of donated supplies. In Massachusetts, PCAs who work independently also faced a dangerous PPE shortage. 1199SEIU was the was the only organization distributing masks to PCAs.

Like millions of other front liners, HHAs and PCAs had their own concerns on the home front.

Gwendolyn Brown, a PCA in Hyde vital support for homecare workers and agencies to help them remain financially stable, recruit and retain enough workers to care for homebound individuals, and keep the workforce safe and healthy.

“This public health crisis will not be over in one wave. And we must be prepared to care for this vulnerable Park, MA, continued to work even as her partner, Preston Robinson, lost his battle with COVID.

“I care about people. It’s not just my passion, it’s my purpose,” she says.

“it’s not just about me. I’m here to do a job caring for people. It’s therapeutic for me. It soothes my mind knowing that I am helping other people and keeping them safe.”

Brown, a Union delegate, says that all those called to this work deserve the same recognition and protections as other front-line caregivers.

“We are the frontline right at home,” says Roberts. “We are taking care of mothers and grandmothers. We are keeping them out of nursing homes in safe environments. We deserve the same protections as everyone else.”

Roberts is proud of home health workers, but she laments how often they are forgotten.

“We risk our own health and safety in the streets and on the subways every day and night,” says Roberts. “It’s good to be recognized but we should have had what we needed from the very beginning.”

1199 Magazine | May / June 2020