70-hour work weeks, sleeping in a car: caregivers struggle to take care of themselves

Dilliner Jordan prepares to lie down in his car in the parking lot of a friend’s apartment building in West Haven for the night of April 4, 2022. Jordan, a home healthcare worker who works four days a week with the client from West Haven, Tracy Lamb, doesn’t make enough money for an apartment. She sometimes sleeps in Lamb’s apartment in a recliner but cannot do so every night. Credit: Cloé Poisson / for C-HIT.org

Dilliner Jordan works 62 hours a week to care for two people who are too medically fragile to care for themselves.

But she doesn’t have health insurance and often sleeps in her car because she can’t afford rent and a security deposit, even though she’s been saving for months. She is afraid to stay in a shelter, which she says will increase her chances of contracting COVID-19 a second time.

“It bothers me,” the 63-year-old Brooklyn, NY native said. “It bothers me a lot. I don’t understand how I could have had two jobs without being able to afford an apartment. Either I make too much money for the aid, or not enough.

At 61, Lucía Nunez, who also works as a caregiver, commonly referred to as a home health aide, holds the same position. Nunez, from East Hartford, works 70 hours a week and cares for three people who need help with daily living activities, including bathing and eating. Yet she hasn’t had a mammogram in four years.

“I can’t remember the last time I went to the doctor for a regular visit,” said Nunez, who also doesn’t have health insurance.

Jordan and Nunez are part of a 10,000-person workforce caring for 6,000 of the state’s most vulnerable residents in their homes, paid for by the state Department of Social Services (DSS) and status Department of Developmental Services (DDS) through Medical help funding.

They are mostly women — mostly women of color — with no health care benefits, no paid vacation, no paid sick leave, and no path to retirement, even as the pandemic dragged into a third year, said Diedre Murch, director of home care for the New England Health Care Employees Union, SEIU District 1199.

Home healthcare worker Dilliner Jordan
Dilleener Jordan wipes Tracy Lamb’s face while caring for her in Lamb’s West Haven apartment on March 22, 2022. Jordan is an in-home healthcare worker caring for Lamb four days a week. Credit: Cloé Poisson / for C-HIT.org

“We’re finding more and more stories like Dilliner and Lucía,” Murch said. “The pandemic was like pouring gasoline on the fire that was already burning.”

Workers cannot legally strike for better wages and benefits because the state has no relief system to take care of their customers, Murch said. The union, DSS and DDS have been in talks for months, even as federal pandemic assistance for community care has been made available. After a meeting with Governor Ned Lamont last week, the union is hoping for a new contract to come along, Murch said, but no deal has been reached.

Nunez works Monday to Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. for two people, then every other weekend taking care of a third person. “I still work over 70 hours a week so I can survive, pay my bills and put food on the table,” she said.

She receives no benefits other than what she calls “holy day wages”, she said.

“If you work on July 4, it’s a holy day, you get paid time and a half. If you don’t work you don’t get paid because we don’t have paid time off unless we work.

Lucie Nunez

She only took a few days off when one of her clients contracted COVID-19 because she couldn’t afford to stop working. Her boyfriend puts gas in her car so she can use the money for food, she said. “Everything is more expensive,” she says.

Jordan works Monday through Thursday from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. for Tracy Lamb, a 52-year-old West Haven resident with multiple sclerosis who is bedridden and needs help with bathing, dressing and household chores. .

“She makes me happy every time,” Lamb said. “When she leaves, I’m miserable.

“We have a very good relationship. She washes me, she leaves the room spotless, she cooks for me, she will clean the house. She never stops. It’s like the Energizer battery.

Sometimes the two watch TV or movies together while Jordan folds the laundry. Lamb said Jordan will shop for her on her day off if she needs anything. “She always goes above and beyond for me,” Lamb said.

Jordan also works 10 a.m. on Fridays and 12 p.m. on Saturdays to care for a second client on oxygen.

Jordan will sometimes spend the night at Lamb’s if it’s cold. The other nights, she will sleep in her car, she says. She cooks for herself when she cooks for her customers, leaving food that needs to stay cold in their refrigerator.

“I never hide my situation from them,” Jordan said. “When I cook for them, I cook for me.”

Home healthcare worker Dilliner Jordan
Dilliner Jordan holds the door to client Tracy Lamb’s apartment building after a trip to the grocery store on April 4, 2022. Jordan is a home healthcare worker who works four days a week with Lamb at the apartment Lamb’s West Haven. Credit: Cloé Poisson / for C-HIT.org

Jordan said she was raised by a mother who believed people should help their older neighbors or those in need. “I think that’s why I got into it,” Jordan said.

“My mother sent us to help people. Even though I work six days a week, I spend Sundays going to see a lady who has no one. I talk with her. We were carers for the elderly when I was a child.

She worked for a nursing home in 1987 but found that the job did not leave her enough time to care for people as she felt necessary, she said. “You have to make sure they’re clean. You want to make them happy,” Jordan said. “There were so many residents that you couldn’t give them the attention they needed. When I am in private service, I can do this for each of my clients. »

After working in home care for nearly 30 years, she had moved to South Carolina before the pandemic hit to spend time with her son and his family, she said. She could work less because she was living with her family and enjoying life, until tragedy struck.

Her son went to the store one day and never came back, she said. He had been shot and killed by the store manager who mistakenly believed he was trying to rob the place, she said. “It was a shock. He just never came back from the store,” Jordan said. “It was very traumatic. He left nine children. You get to the point where you can’t feel anymore. I was in trauma.”

She sought help from a therapist through telehealth, then returned to Connecticut to escape the memories of their time together, she said. “I couldn’t stay. I kept seeing it everywhere,” she said.

Since then, she has been working with Lamb and her other client while trying to avoid catching COVID-19 for the second time. Her first fight in November 2021 left her with lung issues and fatigue, she said. She lost two weeks of pay during the quarantine because, by then, federal sick leave payments for home workers affected by COVID-19 had ended.

Jordan said she makes it a point to tell her clients that they always make life worth living, even if they are bedridden or have physical difficulties. Some days she tries to motivate them even though she is exhausted from the workload, she said.

“Everyone has a calling,” Jordan said. “It takes a special person to care for people with tenderness. I try to give them a better quality of life. Everyone should have a better quality of life.

Home healthcare worker Dilliner Jordan and his client Tracy Lamb
Dilliner Jordan covers client Tracy Lamb with a duvet after helping her get back into bed after a trip to the grocery store on April 4, 2022. Jordan is a home healthcare worker who works four days a week with Lamb in Lamb’s West Haven apartment. Credit: Cloé Poisson / for C-HIT.org

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