Through interviews and original photography, PHI is working with direct care workers nationwide to document their stories and share their ideas for transforming jobs in long-term care. This interview is with Brenda Mueller, a Home Health Aide and Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) at Knute Nelson in Long Prairie, Minnesota. She has been a direct care worker for 34 years.
On why she decided to become a caregiver
“I began doing this work when I was 16 years old in my little hometown of Jackson, Minnesota. After I moved away, I worked in a nursing home for 25 years before leaving six years ago for my current position with Knute Nelson. My grandmother was a nursing assistant at our local hospital until she retired in her 70s. Growing up around her, caring for others was always built into my heart. I also have a daughter who followed in my footsteps, and she works in an assisted living facility. I guess you could say nursing runs in our family.”
On her relationship with her clients
“Working in home care, I want to make sure I am doing everything right for my clients. I always tell them, ‘You’re my boss. I’m in your home. If you want me to do anything differently, I’m willing to work with you.’ It means a lot to them that they get to stay in their homes. That’s why we are there.”
On what it takes to succeed in her job
“I’ve been in this field for a long time. It is gratifying and a great profession to go into. But every day is a little different and has its own challenges, so it helps that I’m someone who can go with the flow. You really have to go into this work with a good attitude and keep your head up no matter what.”
“You really have to go into this work with a good attitude and keep your head up no matter what.”
On the impact of COVID-19
“The pandemic has been very scary. We are taking so many extra safety measures, but at the same time we don’t want to scare our clients. I take care of a 101-year-old, and when I started coming into work with a mask on she would look so worried. I just explained that it’s a precaution to make sure I don’t get her sick.
Knute Nelson gets us all the PPE [personal protective equipment] we need, and masks for every client and their spouse. Plus, we’re getting non-stop email communication from our managers, and other types of support videos. But sometimes I lay awake at night and worry about what tomorrow will bring. I do my best to stay positive and try to walk around with a smile. I think smiling helps others stay positive too, even if they can’t always see it hidden behind my mask.”
The Direct Care Worker Story Project aims to enhance the visibility of this workforce, amplify its voices, and draw on workers’ unique wisdom to inform policy and practice. The Project seeks to address the lack of representation of direct care workers in public narratives and ensure images used to depict long-term care work are grounded in workers’ and clients’ real experiences. If you’re interested in sharing your story as a direct care worker, please email us at info@PHInational.org.