The New York Times

The New York Times 19 May 2020

Why Do Some Health Care Workers Live in Poverty?


It's 3 a.m. and Kim Rockwood, a health care worker, is driving to her patients' homes — even during the coronavirus pandemic — to help them take medication or go to the bathroom. She's effectively on call 24/7. Yet she can barely make ends meet. As she explains in the above video, she's always on the clock, and even though she loves her job, she can't afford her own health insurance.

Why is someone so vital to our health care system scraping by on poverty wages?

Ms. Rockwood, a certified nursing assistant in Worcester County, Mass., is not alone. The average home care worker in America makes just $16,200 a year. Many of them would make more on unemployment. Someday, most of us will need supportive care. Will there be any workers left when that time comes?

Captain Tom Moore, the 99-year-old British WWII veteran who raised millions of dollars for health care workers battling the coronavirus outbreak, has now received more than 125,000 cards ahead of his 100th birthday. The cards are on display at the school of his grandson, Benjie Ingram-Moore.
Health care professionals are still going to work each day without sufficient masks, gloves, gowns and other supplies, and are begging for proper personal protective equipment (P.P.E.). In a country that spends more on health care than anywhere else on the planet, masks are being rationed or reused, and some hospital workers are even using novelty rain ponchos to protect themselves. Health care workers around the country are falling ill and dying — The Brooklyn Hospital Center estimated a third of its doctors and nurses are home sick with the virus. Meanwhile, President Trump has openly accused health care workers of being wasteful and hoarding masks. In the above Op-Ed video, nurses and physicians from around the country are demanding that the government take aggressive action to get them sufficient equipment. Right now.
World War II veteran Capt. Tom Moore set out to walk 100 laps in his garden by April 30, his 100th birthday, to raise funds for health care workers in the UK. He's since received millions in donations.
Eating establishments across the country have been forced to shutter to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, but some have found creative ways to keep feeding health care workers in their community.

… show captions ↓
"I mostly care for people in their homes, people
like parents, grandparents —"
"This is Nancy.
This is my sweetheart."
"— the most vulnerable population of our society,
people who need help going to the bathroom,
eating, taking the medications.
This is for your bones.
This is for your pain.
Brendan is paralyzed from the neck down.
We do everything for him.
All right, so I've got to lift you up."
"All right?
I work seven days a week, but I love my job.
I wouldn't do anything else.
I've worked for over 30 years doing this,
and I make just over $15 an hour.
I live in Massachusetts, and my salary
is actually one of the highest in the country.
18 percent of us live below the poverty line.
Nationally, we make just over $16,200 a year.
And even though I work in health care,
I cannot afford health insurance.
I avoid going to the doctors.
I have medical bills I haven't paid.
My new tattoo is "We're all in this together,"
and it is the world as a heart.
Since Covid, the federal government
is giving out more than $100 billion of emergency money
to hospitals, nursing homes, long-term-care facilities.
That's great, but most of the money
isn't going to people like me.
I'm not a materialistic person,
and I'm not asking to make a million dollars.
I don't mind doing hard work, but I need to make a living.
I need to be able to pay my bills, especially now
with coronavirus.
Most home givers aren't receiving hazard pay.
I've had to pay for a lot of their P.P.E. out
of my own pocket.
If we are essential workers, we
need to be treated like essential workers.
I know.
I know, right?
If I were to go on unemployment
and stop working, I would make about the same amount
of money, if not more.
And then there's not going to be
anybody to take care of these people,
and that's just crazy.
It's a very broken system.
These patients are sick, and they need to be cared for."
"This is every innocent person's nightmare."
"Last Tuesday, Nancy fell.
She basically sat on the floor until she was found.
I would hate to have her end up
in a nursing home or a long-term-care facility,
but that's what's going to happen if she doesn't receive
the care.
I give her a quality of life that she deserves,
and I don't want her to lose that.
That's why I do what I do.
If she falls, she loses all of that.
[Crying] I'm sorry.
You all right?
You want to change it?
You all right?
I love you.
Get up.
Don't cry.
You're going to make me cry.
Come on.
It doesn't have to be like this.
The federal government and the Department
of Health and Human Services must
require some of the money that is going out for relief to go
to the front-line caregivers.
States could also use the Medicaid to increase our pay.
Some states increased wages for all health workers,
including home caregivers.
Arkansas is doing it now.
Arkansas did prove that it is possible.
Even a few dollars more an hour would change our lives
and make the health care system more sustainable
and safer for our patients.
All right, kiddo.
But when this is all over in the post-Covid world,
the money shouldn't get taken away.
Caregivers will still be needed,
and we should be paid a living wage.
We need help.
And then when I get old, you can take of me, right?"
"Oh, yeah."
"This is what I've always done.
This is what I'll always do.
I'm a caregiver."

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