Grandparents’ Day highlights issues facing seniors
by Chase Collum
Sep 18, 2013 | 988 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Members of several activist organizations gathered in Fort Greene Park on Sunday, Sept. 15, to celebrate the first annual Grandparents' Day and raise awareness about issues facing persons needing home care and the workers who provide that care.

The Alliance for a Greater New York (ALIGN) has joined the Caring Across Generations campaign, to promote the value of intergenerational relationships and highlight the increasing need for quality care of the elderly and disabled.

ALIGN recently completed a new study, Caring Across New York City, which breaks down the facts about many of the issues facing the aging population, the results of which are available on the organization's website.

“Part of what's so amazing about this campaign is that it really brings together both sides of this issue,” said Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, who is a coordinator for ALIGN. “There are the people who need care and support services, and there are also the workers that provide the care.”

The most talked about issue of the day was a general feeling that there is a lack of dignity and respect on both sides of the care equation.

From the side of the caregivers, they want to see a trend towards, “treating people well as opposed to treating them like servants,” said ALIGN organizer Kristi Barnes. “Inversely, the disabled and elderly often feel they're being treated like babies.”

Made up of over 90 percent female and over 50 percent immigrant workers, the home care industry has never been included in workers' rights legislation.

“If you go back to the 1930's, and the efforts to build opportunity and security for working people through legislation, groups that were excluded from the get-go were the farm workers and domestic workers, and it was a racial thing,” said Jim Perlstein a retired professor and now an active member of the Professional Staff Congress' retiree chapter.

Two home care providers who work side-by-side to care for the same client 24 hours per day are Vilma Rozen, originally from Costa Rica, and Nicia Hassell, who was raised in St. Martin.

While they are paid at a much higher rate than most home care workers, bringing in $15 per hour, they do not enjoy the stability that is afforded to workers of more mainstream industries, such as health insurance and sick leave.

“We have a lot of problems with that because the bills still come in when we are sick and we don't have pay for that,” said Rozen. “For example, one month ago, I was sick for 10 or 11 days and I couldn't work.”

Willingham-Jaggers believes there are steps that can be taken right away to begin solving these issues, the first of which would be restoring the Expanded In-home Services for the Elderly program (EISEP), which especially helps those who fall in the care gap, meaning they earn too much to qualify for social services but not enough to pay for full care out of pocket.

In the past, she explained, the city has matched federal funds into this program.

“The last couple of years, New York City has not matched any of those funds, so the budget has been cut by more than half,” said Willingham-Jaggers.

“Twenty-seven million more Americans are going to be 65 before 2050,” added Willingham-Jaggers. “The biggest generation is now graying. We have this incredible need coming up on us really quickly. So unless we can make these good quality jobs, we're not going to have the people that we need to take care of the folks we love so much.”

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