the passionate few
than triple their income in their first year. Still, the profession’s
turnover rate is remarkably high, with almost 62 percent of work-
ers at private home-care agencies quitting or being fired each year.
Shortages in aides cause agencies and nursing homes to turn
away hundreds of clients. The shortage is expected to reach crisis
proportions. Each day, 10,000 baby boomers turn 65, and most
want to age at home. The number of people over 65 is expected to
almost double by 2050. About 1.3 million home health aides will
be needed as soon as 2026, a 47 percent increase over 2016, while
the number of working-age women is decreasing.
some aides help their dying clients in crucial ways. Pauline
Jackson, 64, who lives in Orange, was called to the death bed of
one of her former clients, Laura. Jackson rushed to the woman’s
home and sat next to her on the hospital bed.
“I held on to her hand and said, ‘Laura, it’s okay, we are okay on
this side.’ Laura closed her eyes, and I said, ‘ We are going to be all
right, I told you,’ and she died.
“She was at peace,” Jackson says. “But to know a person before,
“I cried for the first week every day,” she says. “It’s tough, I’m
and see them at the end, it’s hard. I cried when I saw the stage
Laura reached. Oh my lord, it hurts so bad…. I just want their
transition to be as peaceful, caring and loving as possible.”
Jackson had stopped working for Laura when the older woman
began to need round-the-clock care, as Jackson had teenage
granddaughters to supervise. She’s never worked for an agency,
having had the luck to care for Jane, another private client,
for 12 years. With Jane she attended family weddings and bar
mitzvahs, enjoyed reading her the health and science sections of
the newspaper, and took her for walks around Springfield, “just
being a companion.”
Jackson came to the United States from Kingston, Jamaica
about 25 years ago to give her three teenage children a better life,
even though that meant leaving them behind for a decade.
telling you. Tough.” She would see her children twice a year when
she traveled back to Jamaica. Even when working three jobs at a
time, she managed to send only about $500 a month home.
Jackson’s children eventually emigrated to the United States.
Last year, she paid off the mortgage on a home in Jamaica, where
she hopes to retire after she turns 70.
Lisa Morris also has felt the pain of a client’s passing. “It’s
horrible, it’s heartbreaking,” says the 34-year-old Morris, who
has worked as a home health aide for about 10 years. Raised in
Honduras, Morris spent her formative years in Teaneck. She says
she likes to help people and feels she can relate to her clients’
struggles. Her mother is also an aide, and they share cases occasionally, with Lisa taking the weekday hours.
For Morris, losing a client is also a reminder of her tenuous
Blair, a native of Trinidad, makes fresh, healthy juices for the
job security. “There’s no stability,” she says. “When you go into
somebody’s home, you don’t know if it’s for one day and you’ll be
gone the next. If you say something they don’t like or do something
they don’t like, they put you out.”
Still, it’s not unusual for an aide and client to develop a substan-
tial bond. After Jerry Weiss’s wife of 63 years passed away and he
was recovering from heart surgery, he spent a couple of months
with a daughter in Kentucky, but felt isolated in her residential
neighborhood. He returned home to Montclair, and for the past
two years, a private aide, Kathy-Ann Blair (not her real name),
has helped him with cooking and laundry. She also accompanies
him to many doctors’ appointments.
90-year-old Weiss, has him following an exercise program, and
stepped in when she felt his doctor was ordering too many tests.
She is proud of the improvements in his health—and she makes
sure he has a good laugh every evening, either from a comedy on
television or a round of playful arguments. She’ll call him “young
man” and remind him to do everything she tells him; he tells her
that’s the quickest way to his grave.
“We really, really do kid around,” she says.
Weiss, a retired English professor, reads Blair’s personal essays
and gives her constructive criticism. “She’s an excellent writer,”
he says. “I’m trying to get her to write more.”
in 2016, the national academy of Medicine called for home
health aides and other direct-care workers to be paid “a living wage
commensurate with the skills and knowledge required to perform
high-quality work.” Certainly, a clear career path out of poverty,
with a chance for advancement, could attract more people to the
profession. A system with tiered positions, such as advanced aide,
and specialists in particular diseases like dementia or multiple
sclerosis also would improve the level of care. Community college
credit could be given for such work experience.
There is some progress to report. In Seattle, New York City and
Washington, D.C., voters have passed a $15-an-hour minimum
wage, which will be phased in gradually and eventually benefit
home health aides. But many aides are paid by state Medicaid
programs, which, due to budget constraints, are not expected to
offer pay increases. Some home-care workers will simply quit for
higher paying, safer and less stressful retail jobs. In New Jersey,
the minimum wage is just $8.44, although it increases annually
In New York and at least six other states, home health aides
have unionized. In Illinois, aides won a 65 percent pay increase.
New York State has also instituted an advanced home health aide
position, in which, with additional training, aides can administer
medication and monitor diabetic care.
If such reforms spread, perhaps home health aides will have rea-
sons to stay on the job beyond their own altruism or a lack of options.
Amabel, 59, who lives in Newark, worked for the same person
for 18 years and found it hard to recover from the death of the
woman, who left money in her will to help pay down Amabel’s
mortgage and student loans.
“I think I love taking care of them more than babies,” she says
“I’m in it because of compassion, because you want to give
of her elderly clients. “From these people I get back knowledge.”
She remembers a professor at Bloomfield College who encour-
aged her to get to know each client very well. “He said, ‘Sit with
her and listen to everything she’s going to tell, because when she
dies, 100 years is gone.’”
Amabel is now a nurse in charge of 54 patients at an extended-
care facility. She continues to work part-time as a private aide.
back,” she says. “I’m giving back the life that’s left to someone.”
Tina Kelley wrote about adoptees and birth families in the
October issue. She lives in Maplewood.
Continued from page 41