Left in the lurch, caregivers risk their lives to keep clients safely at home: ‘You don’t get any more front line than being in somebody’s bedroom.’

Brittany Williams’ work bag is getting heavier and heavier. As an in-home caregiver, it’s her responsibility to carry everything she needs to every client’s home.

When the 34-year-old Seattleite arrives at one of her two clients’ homes, she leaves her shoes at the door and puts on rubber-soled socks she gets from Dollar Tree. She goes inside and immediately washes her hands. Because she’s allergic to hand sanitizer, she carries a bar of soap with her, alongside her gloves and reusable mask. She dons the gloves and vigorously uses Lysol on the doors before she starts any tasks with her client.

While she gets gloves through her home care agency, they were able to secure only two disposable masks for each worker or agency provider. Although they’re single-use medical masks, Williams washes and reuses them.

Williams, who has been doing this work for six years, is also an individual provider, where the personal protective equipment (PPE) situation is more dire. Individual caregivers work for clients through DSHS — and not a clinic or agency — and must depend on their own ingenuity to secure gloves and masks. Williams ended up sewing her own mask, taking a bandana provided by her union and using other materials from Dollar Tree. Through trial and error, she ended up with one reusable mask to use every day for both her clients. That means there is only one mask for use not only in the clients’ homes, but also for taking transit, running their errands, taking her clients to appointments and protecting herself outside of work.

Read more on Crosscut’s website.

President Donald Trump often opens his evening news briefings on the pandemic by rattling off a list of actions his administration has taken to secure protective gear for frontline health workers, claiming dire shortages have been resolved.

But hospitals, nursing homes and caregivers across the country tell POLITICO they are still struggling to obtain medical masks, gloves and gowns, undercutting Trump’s assertions.

Read more on Politico’s website. 

Preexisting staffing shortages and dismal pay are colliding with a crisis that’s testing the limits of the nurses and health aides caring for the sick and elderly.

Shelly Hughes’s typical day starts at 9 p.m. She’s used to not wanting to get out of bed and go to work, but now the feeling is much stronger. Her son, home from college because of social-distancing measures, tells her every day to quit her job. Lately her husband takes extra care to set out her scrubs and make sure that she has coffee. “He is just a little bit extra affectionate,” she told me. He reminds her to wash her hands and avoid people who cough. It’s “like he’s sending me off to war or something.”

In a sense, he is. Hughes is a nursing-home aide in Washington State, and her patients are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19. Hughes’s work has always been intimate, and hard: She helps her patients use the bathroom, changes their incontinence products, and repositions her patients so that they don’t get bedsores. She comforts them when they are worried and unable to sleep. But now she’s responsible for keeping them—and herself—safe in spite of staffing and equipment shortages that put both patients and health-care workers at risk.

Read more on The Atlantic’s website. 

SEATTLE — At-home caregivers are looking after the people most vulnerable to COVID-19 and need more protective gear to do their jobs, according to Sterling Harders, president of the caregivers’ union SEIU 775.Harders says that this week Washington state agreed to put in-home caregivers — who are deemed essential workers — on the priority list for personal protective equipment (PPE).But the caregivers can only receive PPE if they’re caring for someone who is showing signs or has tested positive for coronavirus.

Harders says it’s a great first step but it’s not enough.

«Caregivers are leaving their homes every day,” she points out. “They’re taking care of their clients, they’re taking them shopping, they’re taking them to doctors’ appointments, and it is not fair to expect caregivers to do that work and not give them the equipment that they need to do it safely.”Harders notes that tasks such as helping someone get out of bed or eat can’t be done from six feet away. She adds that if caregivers can keep people out of hospitals, it makes everyone safer.

Desirae Hernandez cares for three clients at different homes and says she’s purchased 60 homemade masks to give to other caregivers. On a regular basis, Hernandez says she can’t afford to get sick because too many people depend on her.”As far as coronavirus goes, I can’t focus on my health — other than taking every precaution I need — because those people still need my care,” she states.

Harders says caregivers don’t have the proper equipment and are scared, but they still are doing their jobs.

«I want to make sure that when the story gets told, and health care workers are talked about as the heroes of this story, that caregivers are included in that,” she stresses.

I want to share with you a step forward in our fight to get all caregivers the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) we need, like masks.

After advocating hard with the Governor’s office and DSHS, we successfully pushed to have home care workers included in the official state “priority lists” for access to PPE.

In the next days, you’ll receive information from DSHS about their new guidelines for in-home caregivers and PPE. Caregivers who provide care for someone who is “Confirmed” (tested positive for COVID-19) or “Suspected” (pending test results OR medical provider verified the symptoms are consistent with COVID-19, but will not test) can request PPE through your Area Agency on Aging (AAA).

This is a step forward – and some caregivers will be able to get PPE – but it’s not enough.

The coronavirus spreads long before there are symptoms. That’s why we’re:

  1. Demanding ALL caregivers have PPE, hazard pay, and pay for lost hours. Add you name to our petition here.
  2. Working with the Benefits Group to get support on guidance on what caregivers can do to stay safe.
  3. Asking you to share a photo on social media of you with a sign saying why you need PPE. Make sure to tag @seiu775 and use the hashtags #GetMePPE and #ProtectAllWorkers

If we can get the equipment and resources we need, caregivers can prevent the spread of COVID-19. We’re a vital and essential link in stopping this pandemic!

We will continue to fight to make sure caregivers and our communities are taken care of during this time.

Be well,

Sterling Harders

SEIU 775 President