My job as a home health aide is so much more than a profession. Every day I enter people’s homes to interact with them one-on-one and to help them perform tasks that most of us take for granted. My appreciation for this line of work came to me through tragedy when my sister was battling breast cancer. Since that time, I have spent a decade dedicating my life to helping those who are elderly, sick or disabled to live as normal a life as possible.
I work seven days a week to take care of some of New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents. I never say no to a tough case, and I fulfill my duties to the people I care for no matter what. I’ve missed out on family time with my children and grandchild when a client was in need of last-minute coverage, and during the pandemic, I risked my own health to continue caring for a client with COVID-19 when his other caretakers called out. In this case, I actually lost wages because I couldn’t see the other clients in my normal rotation, but I knew that nobody else would step up if I didn’t. When it comes to my job, the word “no” is not in my vocabulary because I am passionate to always help those in need.
Despite my dedication and appreciation for the work that I do, I still struggle to provide for my family. The wages that Home Health Aides make in New Jersey aren’t proportional to the work we do and the services we provide. While we have been recognized for being on the frontlines through COVID-19, the state’s communication to us about our place in line for the vaccine was confusing and unclear, and even before the pandemic hit, hourly wages for Home Health Aides like myself were no longer keeping up with New Jersey’s increasing minimum wage. There are so many residents that need our help to stay home—and there will be more as people want to stay away from nursing homes and as the state’s population gets older. Hazard pay helped that temporarily, but now I’m back in the same position; working seven days a week for too little pay while others working in settings like fast food or retail are able to make better wages. Governor Murphy ought to recognize that as the minimum wage ticks upwards, people like me may not be able to stay in this field. As a result, many seniors will end up exactly where they don’t want to be: In hospitals and nursing homes.
The work that I do is tremendously valued by my clients and their families. Even my own family has seen the impact a Home Health Aide can make when a family member is struggling to be independent. All I ask is that the state of New Jersey recognize the value of Home Health Aides by increasing funding for our field so that caretakers like myself can feel secure in our jobs, our safety and our livelihood. We do so much more than provide care, and our responsibilities go far and beyond what typical minimum wage jobs entail. We are caretakers, we become family, we provide physical & emotional support and we keep people at home where they belong and where they thrive.