THE PASSIONATE FEW
BY TINA KELLEY | PHOTOGRAPHS BY JENNIFER S. ALTMAN
ew Jersey has almost 39,000 home health aides, but you
might never see one. The aides take care of the elderly
and the disabled, helping them stay in their homes and
out of institutions. Working behind gates in retirement
communities and assisted-living centers, in private homes
and apartments, aides are visible only when they take
their charge out for the occasional walk or appointment.
Aides sleep in back rooms and on sofas, lightly, in case
their charge wakes up in the middle of the night to use
the bathroom. Sometimes they don’t get any rest at all.
One aide in Middlesex County won a lawsuit against her
home-care agency after her client repeatedly startled her
awake in the middle of the night, contributing to a stroke.
Home health aides are disproportionately female, foreign-born and people of color. Half of the nation’s aides
are members of families that rely on public assistance,
including food stamps. They perform isolating, dangerous
work, requiring a great deal of lifting, but 26 percent of
and seemingly invisible,
home health aides still
find compelling reasons
to care for the elderly and