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 Zulma Torres, a Home Health Aide at Cooperative Home Care Associates in the Bronx, NY. She has been a direct care worker for 23 years.
ON WHY SHE DECIDED TO BECOME A HOME HEALTH AIDE
“Back in 1997, I found myself in a bind. My youngest daughter was two years old, my son was in the hospital, and we were living with my mother in the Bronx. I needed a job. My sister-in-law was taking a training nearby with Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA) and suggested I do the same so I could get a job as a home health aide. I didn’t have any experience, but I took a chance. There were so many things I wanted for my family, but I needed a job before any of them could be possible. So I took the training and passed my tests, and CHCA put me to work. It was really hard in the beginning. But with time, I found that this is my purpose and where I belong.”
ON THE IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON HER CLIENTS
“We aren’t hearing as much about home health aides in the news, but we are dealing with our own crises during this coronavirus pandemic. It’s a scary time right now for us, as well as for our clients and their families. Some clients don’t want anyone in their homes, and we are scared when we get to their homes. Even though they need our services, some of them don’t want them now. But what happens to them if we don’t go in? Who will take care of them? One of my clients watches the news 24/7 and constantly hearing about the virus can really get to you mentally. I don’t blame her for worrying because we are all at risk, so I am understanding and I listen. But in my case, I do my best to be careful and then leave the rest to God.”
ON HER RESPONSE TO THE RISKS OF INFECTION
“I live in Connecticut now and take three trains to get to New York for my night shift. I take the same Metro North train line that had one of the earliest coronavirus cases, so it was extremely scary. For the first couple weeks, I would try to disinfect my area the best I could and would always wear my gloves and mask. During those nerve-wracking, three-hour train rides to work, I would pray. Since then, my son-in-law started driving me because my family was so worried about me taking public transportation. I’m grateful for his help, but even without it nothing would stop me from showing up for my client because I know she needs me.”
ON THE TYPES OF SUPPORT SHE HAS NEEDED DURING THE COVID-19 CRISIS
“CHCA has done a great job giving us guidance throughout the pandemic, and I know what I need to do to prevent spreading the virus. CHCA texts us every morning asking about any symptoms we might have, they have boxes of gloves for us in the office, and they also gave us disposable masks as well as a washable one. It was scary in the beginning when it was so hard to get all the essentials we needed, like rubbing alcohol and thermometers. I went everywhere in the Bronx one day trying to find Lysol. When I finally found it, you know how much it cost? $15. I couldn’t believe the price gouging, but I didn’t have a choice.”
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.