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 Maria Marrero, a Certified Home Health Aide at HomeCare Options in Totowa, NJ. She has been a direct care worker for 18 years.
ON WHY SHE DECIDED TO BECOME A HOME HEALTH AIDE
“From a very young age, I have always liked to help others. Even at age 11, when I was living in Puerto Rico, I loved working with older adults and helped take care of my older neighbor. I feel very lucky that I can do work that I love.
I have been working with HomeCare Options for 18 years. After a neighbor told me about the classes he was taking to become an aide, I decided to get my CHHA license. I’m very happy with the agency. They are always there for us and, with the pandemic especially, they protect us at all times.”
ON HER RELATIONSHIP WITH HER CLIENTS
“My clients are very special to me. From the first day I meet them, they are not only my clients but they are part of my family. Many of them don’t have any other help and might be alone at home the entire week except for when an aide is there. They are happy to see me and usually a couple of minutes after I arrive, they are already smiling. That’s a beautiful gift you get being a home care aide. I know they appreciate the work I do for them.”
ON WHAT SHE FINDS MOST CHALLENGING IN HER ROLE
“I really enjoy my job and love what I do. But you need to work really hard as a home care aide, and the pay is very, very low. If you’re just working for the money, then forget about it. I’m lucky my husband has a good job, because if it was just me, I could not survive on my salary alone.”
ON HOW THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC HAS IMPACTED HER WORK
“Before the pandemic, I was working more than 30 hours each week. Then everyone was too scared to let aides come into their homes and canceled services, which I understood. I was home without work for a couple of months, but I was still communicating with my clients every day on the phone to check in on them. Eventually I went up to four or six hours a week, and now my hours are back to what they were before. But it was very hard in the beginning. I went on unemployment, but it wasn’t enough to even buy food for the week.
Working during the pandemic has caused a lot of stress. I always tell my clients that we need to act as if everybody is infected because we just don’t know. I wear my PPE all the time when I go out and take every precaution I can, so I don’t risk infecting my family or clients. I don’t go to restaurants, even to eat outside. I can’t take that chance. I really get mad when I go out and see people that wear their mask below their nose or don’t use a mask at all. I think, ‘Come on. A lot of us are sacrificing so much to take care of people. Wear your mask out of respect for them.’”
Photography: Kristen Blush
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.