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 Kao Saephan, a Home Care Provider on the Caregiver Emergency Response Team (CERT) at Homebridge in San Francisco, CA. He has been a direct care worker for one year.
On why he decided to become a direct care worker
“I was incarcerated for 16 years, starting at age 19. Towards the end of my incarceration, I had the honor of working with a hospice program at a medical facility in a role that was similar to home care. During that time, I got to evaluate myself, and I became the loving and caring person who I now know I was brought into this world to be. I knew when I got out that I wanted to help people in my community and care for the vulnerable. Fortunately, Homebridge gave me that chance.”
On his relationship with his clients
“Each client has their own unique personality and characteristics that make them so special. Before the pandemic, I worked with people who were in housing programs, and I was assigned to clients who I saw regularly and built relationships with. I provide personal care, emotional support, domestic work, and even run errands. I’m there for my clients if they need or want anything, offer an extra hand to help or an extra ear to listen, and let them know they are not alone and that there is somebody out there who cares about them.
When the pandemic started, I volunteered to join Homebridge’s Caregiver Emergency Response Team (CERT) to care for the homeless population in San Francisco that is currently sheltering in hotel units to reduce the spread of the virus. I get to hear their stories and learn how they became homeless and bridge that gap between us. It’s humbling that I can put so much energy and strength and motivation into my job and make a difference in their lives.”
“I’m there for my clients if they need or want anything, offer an extra hand to help or an extra ear to listen, and let them know they are not alone and that there is somebody out there who cares about them.”
On the impact of COVID-19
“When the CERT team came about, I saw it as an opportunity to do even more good and serve people with the most need. Homebridge prepared me in more ways than I can wrap my head around, and I follow their instructions and CDC guidelines on how to keep myself safe. Even so, there are always still potential risks of contracting the virus and getting sick. But that is out of my control.
It can all be very emotionally draining, and the stress takes a big toll on me some days. I go to work and help people, come home, go to sleep, and then do the same thing all over again the next day. I’m not able to see my parents, friends, or other family. In a sense, it can feel like I am in prison all over again.
My parents are refugees from Laos, and in the Mien culture, I should be the one giving them the care they need. I am an only child, and they are getting older. But they are hundreds of miles away, and now I can’t even see them. They are worried about me, and I’m worried about them. Sometimes I feel like I am neglecting them, but they assure me I’m doing a good job.”
Photography: Constanza Hevia H. @constanzaheviah
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.