City offers assistance to caregivers

By Ana B. Nieto

For Bárbara Rodríguez, 2010 was a bad year. Her husband fell ill and required assistance during most of the day and night. His situation was so dire that Rodríguez was forced to request a onemonth unpaid family leave. “There was no chance for me to get it if it was paid,” lamented the Puerto Rican woman, who has spent her “whole life” in the city. She said that, for a year and until her husband passed, she had to divide her time as well as she could, required the help of her daughter, suffered from emotional stress, had no time for herself and lost that month’s pay. When she was not busy at home caring for her husband, the 53-year-old took care of other sick or elderly people, as that was her job. She is one of thousands of Hispanic caregivers in a city that increasingly needs these professionals, not just to look after children but also ill or older people. Rodríguez has performed this work for more than 15 years, 11 of them in a company in which employees recently unionized, allowing them to have a good health care plan. “This is something that many of the caregivers I talk to do not have. Their lives are very difficult because they pay a lot for their health insurance and their salaries are below $8 or $9 per hour,” she said. Rodríguez, who has participated in the demonstrations demanding a $15 minimum wage, currently makes $10.31 per hour, $11.10 on the weekends. Her salary is set to increase when the progressive wage raise approved by the state reaches $15.

The city offers support

Beginning next year, the caregivers – who are mostly women – will finally be supported in part by the city. Come March, a law approved by the City Council on Aug. 16 will take effect, creating a dedicated division for these workers in the Office of Labor Standards of the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA). “This office will be giving a helping hand and assistance to the rights of these people who are mostly immigrant women of color and who take care of the most precious thing New Yorkers have: our children and our seniors,” explained Irene Jor, an organizer with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, via press release. One of every seven low-income workers in the city is a caregiver. It is one of the professions employing the highest number of people. The City Council also approved performing research among non-paid caregivers – generally relatives and friends of the person in need of care – and the providers of these services to develop a plan to better serve the needs of these workers earning no money for taking care of ill and elderly people. Council member Debi Rose, who introduced the law to carry out this study alongside Council member Margaret Chin and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, said that there is significant need, as “the senior population is growing, and it is difficult for families to be prepared or to be able to afford to take time off to care for a person who has a situation like Alzheimer’s, for instance.” Rose regretted that a whole generation of New Yorkers are busy with their own children on top of caring for their elder parents. “I experienced the pressure myself when my mother was sick with Alzheimer’s,” explains Rose, adding that she believes that paid family leave is crucial to prevent anyone from feeling guilty for leaving a relative to go to work. Once the study is completed, necessary measures will be taken to accommodate the needs it may reveal.

Demanding paid leave

When municipal authorities talk to the workers, they will surely find unanimous support for paid family leave. Janice Caruselle, who also cared for her mother when she had Alzheimer’s, told El Diario that the benefit is necessary “because [caring for someone] is like another job.” She added: “Moreover, I would support the creation of a leave for extraordinary circumstances for those caring for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s.” Amalia Domínguez-Medina, whose father also suffered from this degenerative illness, said: “You suffer enough to also have to lose your job.” For her part, Caruselle, a nurse living on Staten Island, said that she was lucky to be trained to perform caregiving tasks and to have a part-time job which allowed her to make arrangements. She admits that she did not depend on her salary, which was convenient, “but many people do need to work.” Rodríguez thinks that caregivers should be given more training. Caruselle agrees, adding that relatives would greatly appreciate it. “We need more. [We need] to be certified so we can treat customers better and have fewer limitations, and to be more competent at our work,” said Rodríguez. She was certified after going through 12 weeks of training and passing state and federal tests, but believes that caregivers need continuing education. “It could reduce injuries among caregivers because you would learn how to move the weight of a person around or use available machinery to help them move without so much effort.” The caregiver said that she understands that not everyone arrives here with enough knowledge of English to comprehend the training, and thinks that courses should be offered in several languages Rose said that she does not want training needs to demand such educational requisites as to make access to the profession more difficult to workers, but believes that it is appropriate to certify that – aside from CPR – caregivers know how to treat people with mental disabilities, cognitive problems or diseases. “The study will let us know how to better prepare caregivers.” Rodríguez and Caruselle also pointed out the need for personal help to deal with the stress caused by a job as emotional as caring for a sick parent or relative, as well as practical help such as expanding the network of social workers and trained caregivers – “capable of seeing bedsores in patients if they exist,” said Caruselle – and health insurance for people not covered by Medicare and Medicaid. Improving working conditions for caregivers is one of society’s unresolved matters to which the city wants to start responding with these first steps. “They are the heroes in many families. We must do everything we can to improve their lives,” said Caruselle categorically.

The need for financial planning

Caruselle added that yet another necessity of caregivers is “financial planning, not just for inheritance matters, but to manage estates, Medicare and Medicaid resources and the potential plan to find a new home for a relative, which is emotionally very difficult.” She said that she had to become her mother’s legal guardian, a very complex and expensive process that not everyone is able to afford. Domínguez-Medina, a Dominican mother of four, can speak of the need for legal assistance and financial counseling because her father was retained against her will in the Dominican Republic by a relative who also took control of his finances. Domínguez-Medina, who works with a cleaning company, was forced to take frequent trips to the island to see her father and make sure he was all right. While she was able to bring him back to New York after two and a half years, the constant traveling cost her her home. Her landlord thought that she was subletting her apartment and got her evicted. “Fortunately, I was able to keep my job because the company where I work is owned by young people who are very understanding,” she said. Domínguez-Medina believes that she would have been able to keep her home if legal and financial counseling had been available. She now lives in a room with her children. Her father passed away recently, and she is trying to recover financially. “Little by little,” she said.

Voices of NY

Posted by on Sep 16 2016. Filed under Community News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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