Where are you from Anita and how long have you been a Home Care Worker?
I was raised right here and went to El Verano school. I’ve been an active Home Care Worker since 1996. Currently I work for In Home Support Services (IHSS), a Sonoma County agency. I’m what’s called “sub-contract labor” which unfortunately means I get no benefits, no health insurance, sick pay, vacation pay or overtime. I don’t even get reimbursed for gas to travel to client homes. They don’t give me enough hours to qualify for benefits; for that, I’d need to work 80 hours a month for six consecutive months.
How does IHSS get its money? Do you know?
I don’t know the exact figures, but IHSS is largely funded by Sonoma County with some additional money provided by the State of California and the federal government. It pays workers like me a standard rate, everyone gets the same. Currently I make $11.65 an hour. My last raise was three years ago and was fifteen cents more per hour. The county says its does not have the money for increases, but the aging population is growing. I don’t know what the county will do. More people need help than get it.
People are calling for a $15/hr. living wage for Home Care Workers.
Yes, getting $15/hour would make a huge difference to me. I could pay for my medications, eye glasses, and so on. I’m between placements right now, and getting placed with a client is variable; it all depends upon client needs. IHSS is understanding and supportive, but says it can’t increase worker pay. It’s hard work that can burn you out.
Can you give me an example of your work?
Well, I took care of Peggy for years before she died. She was a MS patient; I would work with her for two hours, once a week. She needed much more help than that and eventually I was with her five-hours-a-day four days per week until she passed away. Older people need direct care, but also companionship. Some even have kids or spouses who need attention. IHSS does not pay a worker to sleep, so we need to coordinate care with other caregivers; there’s lots to do. Some clients use scooters to get around, and if I take them shopping I need to reach items on shelves, manage carts, load and unload. Much of what we workers do is off the books and done just out of kindness.
You’ve probably seen an awful lot.
Yes, I’ve seen a lot of people pass away. We often interface with Hospice. But this work is not like being a glorified baby-sitter. You don’t have time to sit around all day. There’s a lot of lifting, helping people dress, bathe and get in and out of bed. We have to get everything ready for them, and wash their clothes, brush their hair and teeth. We manage meals, chop food and deal with medications and bathroom accidents. Some clients actually need 24-hour attention. And, unfortunately, when I get sick I can’t work.
What inclined you to this profession?
I like the flexibility and different work might be longer hours for even less pay. Growing up, my father worked at the Sonoma Developmental Center, and I used to go there with him and help out and volunteer. I was exposed to the experience of kindness of care. I guess it’s a calling of the heart.
— Interview by Larry Barnett