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Opinion: It’s exceedingly tough to find quality caregivers, so many women end up leaving their jobs to care for loved ones. It shouldn’t be this way.

In her late 80s, my mom was just starting to exhibit signs of dementia.

Although she and my father were physically healthy, she began to forget everyday things, like eating, that were essential to her life. I was worried enough that I hired a caregiver to stay with her two hours a day for a couple of days a week.

By the time my dad passed away, my mother’s dementia had worsened. Before he died, he made me promise that I would keep her at home for as long as I could. Her caregiver now came in in five days a week. She would take care of the tasks my mother could no longer remember or handle – light housekeeping, errands, chores, meals.

2 hours turned into 7 days a week

One caregiver became multiple caregivers seven days a week, overnight and during the day. Mom had 24-hour coverage, each caregiver working in 12-hour shifts.

The main caregiver who had been with my mom since the very beginning, came Monday through Thursday to continue her essential tasks. The others stayed overnight in case my mom got up during the night or needed to know someone was in the house with her.

From Friday through Sunday, they would come in to take her vitals, measure her medications for the week and cook her meals. In addition to everything else, and perhaps most importantly, they would take her on little adventures. My mother was originally from Spirit Lake, Iowa, so they would take her anywhere she could be near water.

As someone with dementia, it was important for my mother to be cared for in her home. She was able to get the individual care she needed, and when she was tucked into bed each night, she knew where she was.

All the while, I continued teaching full time at Arizona State University while completing my doctorate. I was able to do these things because I knew my mother was safe and in the hands of people who loved her.

Caregivers are underfunded, understaffed

Unfortunately, caregivers work in an underfunded and understaffed industry, and millions of Americans struggle to hire caregivers. They make as little as $17,000 a year, and many do not receive the proper training to face the increasing level of care demanded of them.

Because of that, workers are leaving all the time, which makes access to quality caregiving hard to find.

I’m one of the lucky ones, because I had access to caretakers in my area and I could continue my career. But usually, without caregivers, women in the family are expected to leave their jobs and take care of their loved ones full time. 

Millions of women have left the workforce to do so. Until we fix this, it will keep dragging down our whole economy.

The Biden administration’s American Jobs Plan would invest $400 billion into the home care industry.

Earlier this month, President Biden resumed talks with a group of GOP lawmakers who want a much narrower bill – one that would exclude funding for the care industry. These workers deserve the better pay, training and benefits that that funding would provide.

If our leaders refuse to invest in their jobs, they are failing to recognize their importance.

Investing in home care is well worth it

I cannot say enough about the level of dedication those caregivers showed for my mother in her last years of life. They treated her like she was their own mother. She wasn’t just a patient to them. She was family.

My mother couldn’t remember their names, but she was always delighted when she saw each of them. To this day, I keep in touch with them.

Our senators, Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, could help move this bill through, and I encourage them to do so.

Everyone deserves to live out their life in the comfort of their own home and receive individualized attention. Every woman deserves to be able to continue her career. Every caregiver deserves better pay, benefits and the right to unionize.

The American Jobs Plan recognizes the realities of today’s economy. It’s well past time to invest in home care, and I hope Congress will pass it.

Ann Hodgins is retired and lives in Mesa. She wrote this in partnership with the Center for American Progress Action Fund, which advocates for progressive policies. Reach her at annmaa48@gmail.com.

Read or Share this story: https://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/op-ed/2021/06/01/caregiving-dementia-tough-american-jobs-plan-could-change/7449757002/