I really didn’t know what to expect. I flew to Los Angeles to attend a roundtable with both union and nonunion home care workers from around the country and special guest—former Secretary of State and presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.
As the conversation unfolded, I heard moving stories about the crushing "senior care gap" caused by baby boomers turning 65 who need care, only to find there aren’t enough home care workers available. I also heard about the struggles many families face in finding the money to pay for adequate care, and about the daily reality of these women who work long hours but cannot afford the necessities for their own families. I knew my fellow nurses and I valued hearing our sisters’ perspectives on our healthcare system, because we know they are part of our care team. We know that home care workers are just as passionately committed to fixing our healthcare system as we are.
Part of the crisis in home care is driven by underpaid work for an unbelievably demanding job. The average pay is less than $10 an hour: Artheta Peters of Cleveland shared how she could not afford to send her son (who had just graduated from high school) to college; Lizabeth Bonilla from Las Vegas has been working as a home care provider for 42 years and still makes only $10 an hour; and Sumer Spika from Minnesota, a home care worker and mom, recalled being in the grocery store with her baby and toddler trying to decide between buying toilet paper and laundry soap.
Another part of this crisis is driven by a lack of respect for care work, an issue that I and every nurse can recognize. Just as we nurses united and fought for our union, our first contract and fair pay, these women (home care is a predominantly female workforce, just like nursing) are fighting for $15 and a union, too.
As Secretary Clinton remarked: “It’s not just anybody who’s good at this work. It’s not just anyone you can trust in your home. The union, the training, it makes a huge difference.”
My fellow nurses from Michigan, Iowa and California attended the event with me and were as inspired as I was by our brave sisters fighting for respect and dignity in the healthcare profession. Ingela Dahlgren, RN, shared after the event: "As a nurse, I understand people can only get so much care in hospitals or clinics. They need to be back in their homes and communities to really thrive. Home care workers allow people to do that."
After the event, we all flew home, back to the work of caring for patients and standing up for one another in the workplace. After all, a roundtable is just sitting down together, talking through what would make our healthcare system better, and what would make the lives of millions of families better.
Despite the daily frenzy of political updates from the campaign trail, nurses know that it’s very early in the 2016 election season. We would encourage every candidate running for elected office to hold a roundtable with nurses and healthcare workers. Want to know what we are thinking about solving the challenges of our healthcare system? Ask us.